Disaster Recovery: Better Data Needed to Ensure Equitable Distribution of HUD Block Grant Funds to Vulnerable Populations
What the GAO found
Recent Federal Register Notices for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Disaster Community Development Block Grants (CDBG-DR) funds direct recipients to demonstrate how their programs will promote housing for vulnerable populations. Recipients were generally required to spend 70% of their funds on low- or middle-income people. Proposed action plans that grantees submit to HUD must describe how grant funds will be used and the populations to be served, including vulnerable populations such as racial minorities, the elderly, or persons with disabilities. HUD provides tools, such as strategies for reaching people with limited English proficiency, to help grantees serve these populations.
When reviewing draft recipient plans, HUD officials told GAO that they generally need revisions to clarify which populations are defined as vulnerable, how funds will help them, and how recipients will reach traditionally underserved populations. served. HUD officials also noted that vulnerable populations can be difficult to define because they can vary locally and regionally based on factors such as geography, housing stock and politics. They outlined plans to define vulnerable populations in future Federal Register Remarks.
The grantees we examined seek to assist vulnerable populations, but HUD does not collect or analyze the key demographic data needed to fully assess the extent of CDBG-DR’s assistance to these populations.
- HUD asks grantees to collect selected data (race and ethnicity and gender of single-parent households) on activities that directly benefit households or individuals (such as housing).
- However, HUD requires recipients to report this data only for those actually served and not for all applicants.
- The six recipients reviewed by GAO collect additional demographic information about applicants and those served, including age, disability status, and primary language.
A 2021 executive order cited the need for improved data and transparency on assistance to vulnerable populations, noting that a lack of data hampers efforts to measure and advance equity. By collecting, analyzing, and making public this additional demographic data, HUD and grantees could better assess whether they are effectively reaching the populations CDBG-DR activities are intended to serve.
Vulnerable populations may experience several challenges in accessing CDBG-DR assistance, according to beneficiaries and organizations interviewed by GAO and studies reviewed by GAO. These include language barriers (those with limited English proficiency may need translation services), limited access to transportation (to get to support centers), and program requirements (individuals may not be able to produce or complete the required documentation). Some grantees reported overcoming these challenges by acquiring translation services and developing outreach plans for vulnerable populations.
Why GAO Did This Study
Large-scale disasters, such as the 2017 hurricanes, have resulted in catastrophic damage, and vulnerable populations may face particular challenges in recovering from a disaster. Since 1993, Congress has provided more than $90 billion in additional appropriations through the CDBG-DR to help affected areas recover.
This story discusses (1) HUD’s approach to assisting vulnerable populations, (2) recipient actions to assist vulnerable populations, and (3) challenges recipients and vulnerable populations face in implementing and the use of CDBG-DR. It is based on a GAO report published in November 2021 (GAO-22-104452). For this report, GAO reviewed documentation from HUD and six grantees (the four largest 2017 CDBG-DR grantees—Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—and Louisiana and New Jersey, which are more advanced in implementation). GAO also interviewed HUD officials, grantees, and organizations representing vulnerable populations.