By ASHRAF KHALIL
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Housing and Urban Development has laid out new guidelines for the disbursal of $2 billion in disaster-relief block grants, with an emphasis on climate-change mitigation and equity for underserved communities.
The new guidelines, published Monday in the Federal Register, spell out specific priorities for the use of the funds by state and local agencies that receive the Community Development Block Grants.
The funds were allocated last year to aid in relief efforts for disasters that took place in 2020 in 10 states and territories. These include: wildfires in California, a dam collapse in Michigan, Hurricane Zeta in Mississippi, and earthquakes and Tropical Storm Isaias in Puerto Rico.
These block grants traditionally come with a great deal of flexibility for local authorities and recipient agencies to decide where best to target the funds depending on the nature of the disaster. For example, wildfires tend to largely destroy buildings and residences, while storms and hurricanes often do the most damage to infrastructure like bridges, sewers and electrical grids.
Most of that flexibility will remain, but HUD is now directing recipient agencies to prioritize long-term environmental resilience and serving traditionally marginalized populations. The guidelines have been largely expected, and HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge spoke of these specific priorities when then grants were first announced in November 2021.
Fudge said at the time that the disbursal of the funds would reflect President Joe Biden’s emphasis on “addressing climate justice in hard-hit communities,” and “building long-term and inclusive resilience to the impacts of climate change, particularly for underserved and marginalized communities.”
HUD spokesman Michael Burns said the agency is defining underserved communities as areas that “were economically distressed before the disaster” and populations that “have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.”
All new construction funded by the grants will need to be built to green standards that emphasis energy efficiency and resilience against similar disasters down the line.