IM No. 91 To Community Services Block Grant Program Administrators
Transmittal No. 91
Community Services Block Grant Program Administrators, Regional and State Community Action Association Officials and Community Action Agency Officials
Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita CSBG Update
Helping in times of crisis, meeting emergency needs, and assisting with subsequent recovery are key missions of community action tradition. State and local agencies across the nation that receive Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) funds are already providing critical assistance to low-income people and communities that have been devastated and dislocated by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Such assistance will continue and likely intensify over the months and years that may be required to heal and rebuild.
This Information Memorandum suggests a number of strategies and provides specific information on how state and local agencies receiving CSBG funding, in both hurricane-ravaged states and responding states, may assist low-income people and communities affected by the hurricanes during the initial phases of relief and recovery.
Specifically, this Memorandum:
· Provides guidance for determining eligibility of affected individuals and families for services funded by CSBG and the kinds of services and supports allowed;
· Clarifies the newly created evacuee status for expediting access to benefits;
· Describes possible strategies for community action assistance to affected low-income individuals and families during the initial phases of relief and recovery;
· Identifies available sources of support for expanded community action service; and
· Encourages essential community action communication and coordination with key public and private emergency responders and service providers at all phases of crisis assistance and recovery.
The Office of Community Services (OCS) intends to issue additional Information Memoranda concerning the community action contribution to hurricane relief and recovery in the near future.
Eligibility for CSBG Services
Community Action Agencies (CAAs) in states affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita (primarily Alabama, Florida ,Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), and states that are receiving displaced individuals and families for interim or longer-term assistance, are encouraged to respond quickly with needed services and other supports.
Because of the nature of the natural disaster, many affected low-income individuals and families will not have in their possession customary documentation of their economic status to substantiate eligibility for CSBG-supported assistance. Also, many individuals or families that may not have been eligible for assistance prior to the hurricanes may be, because of the devastation, eligible now. In either case, OCS encourages state and local agencies receiving CSBG funds to, at a minimum, streamline the eligibility process for affected individuals and families. States should issue policy regarding alternative forms of eligibility certification. Three possible approaches might be considered:
· The use of short, signed declarations or affidavits of eligibility;
· "Presumptive eligibility" determinations based on applicant residence in known areas of devastation, or post-hurricane experience of affected individuals or families;
· Accepting eligibility certification paperwork from another Federal or State program.
State CSBG lead agencies in both affected and "receiving" states are encouraged to assist (or continue to assist) local agencies making services and supports readily accessible to individuals or families impacted by the hurricanes, and to ensure that current and future oversight of eligibility procedures among local agencies reflect necessary latitude in response to this extraordinary situation.
Programs across the Federal Government have been exploring ways of providing affected low-income individuals and families immediate and more portable access to services and benefits (i.e., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps), including the expanded use of "smart cards" and short application forms. State CSBG lead agencies are encouraged to work with other state and state-administered Federal programs to reduce overlap, redundancy, and paperwork as much as possible to qualify and serve eligible hurricane-affected low-income people.
Designation of "Evacuee Status"
The Federal Government has established a special designation of "evacuee" to expedite eligibility and assistance to those affected by the hurricanes based on zip code of residence prior to the storm; registration with FEMA or the Red Cross; or, self-declaration. The special evacuee status applies to the full range of Federal benefits administered by the states.
President George W. Bush has noted that no state will be unfairly disadvantaged as a result of services provided to citizens with this special evacuee status designation. It is also important that, to the extent practicable, CAAs and CSBG State Agencies ensure that evacuees without an evacuee status designation are assisted in acquiring the designation prior to documenting and delivering services and benefits.
State CSBG lead agencies have been asked to file periodic counts of "evacuee" households served in order to help determine appropriate allocation of any supplemental funding should it become available. Instructions and forms for reporting have been issued and we appreciate your cooperation and assistance.
Allowable Costs and Services
Given the extraordinary nature and scope of devastation caused by the hurricanes, and the exceptional needs that will be placed on all service providers in affected and helping states and communities, OCS has encouraged states to allow local agencies to utilize CSBG funds to meet all life-sustaining needs (such as food, shelter and clothing) of affected low-income individuals and families. OCS has further encouraged states to allow local communities to dedicate "carryover" funds for assistance to affected low-income people or to provide linkages to fill "identified gaps" in service and to coordinate with other public and private resources for the provision of services.
OCS has determined that the ravages of the hurricanes satisfy the "extraordinary circumstances" provision of the CSBG Act. The construction of facilities, retrofitting of property or the costs associated with the construction of shelters to meet the needs of evacuees qualify as appropriate uses of CSBG funds. States wishing to seek waiver of the statutory limitation on these uses of CSBG funds should forward these requests to OCS for expeditious review. States may assume the responsibility for assisting local entities in making the determination for such construction (Section 678F-CSBG Act).
Community Action Assistance
In both affected and receptive states, CAAs have been responding to the immediate life-preserving needs of many thousands of low-income individuals and families who have been displaced from their homes or communities.
Over the coming weeks and months, response to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will go through several phases, including: 1) initial emergency and life-preserving phase during which services are now being provided through evacuation of affected individuals and families to temporary shelters and services; 2) longer-term transitional placement and service arrangements; and 3) ultimate recovery to more permanent living arrangements (either in the affected community or through relocation). The following are suggested assistance strategies for State and local community action agencies for the initial phase of the relief and recovery process:
Local community action agencies are often the first source of information and communication for many low-income people in distress. Agencies that are able to continue to function in devastated areas should continue to gather and pass along information concerning the location and availability of emergency services such as food and water, temporary shelter, medical care, clothing, gasoline, and evacuation transportation. If possible, local agencies in affected areas without telephone service or power should help account for current clients and agency staff in affected neighborhoods, safety permitting, and determine the presence or status of individuals in need of help and arrange for such help when available. Existing partnerships and linkages with other service providing organizations in the community need to be utilized, especially with area offices of key national relief agencies such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Local agencies in affected areas may wish to serve as points of coordination and communication among local service and other relief-contributing groups, such as faith-based organizations, local businesses, or civic groups, in addressing the immediate survival needs of affected individuals and families.
Local agencies in communities that receive individuals and families evacuated from devastated areas may wish to consider providing communications help in a number of ways, including: 1) Creating, or assisting in the creation of public service announcements about the need for and availability of services and supports for affected individuals and families; 2) Providing telephone or electronic opportunities for displaced people relocated to the community to connect with immediate or extended family or other sources of emotional and logistical support; 3) Establishing on-going communication linkages with the “home” community action agency of affected individuals and families to assure that there is a continuity of knowledge about routine and special needs or conditions (i.e., medical care, prescription drugs, child welfare services) and a corresponding continuity of service.
A number of national organizations, especially the American Red Cross, have created special services to help reunite families separated as a result of the hurricanes, or connect affected people with family or other sources of immediate support in other parts of the country.
At a minimum, CAAs are encouraged to help those they serve utilize these family reunification
In addition, CAAs in areas affected by the hurricanes may wish to utilize the community-to-community capacity of the Community Services Network, to communicate special family reunification situations from one CAA to another. Either by telephone or internet (i.e., the Electronic Networking Group, firstname.lastname@example.org), family members in one community could be helped to locate family in another community that may not have a telephone or internet access by agencies with community connections and a shared mission of support.
Temporary Shelter and Life-Supporting Services
Local community action agencies in areas affected by the hurricanes are no doubt providing all the services and supports that they are able to muster given local conditions and remaining inhabitants. Indeed, in many cases, it is likely that agency staff members are among those that have been adversely affected by the hurricane and in need of assistance, either within the community or at evacuation sites.
OCS supports and encourages State CSBG lead agencies and state community action associations in affected states that are mobilizing people and resources to augment emergency relief in stricken communities.
OCS further supports and encourages State CSBG lead agencies and state community action associations in non-affected states to provide human, logistical, and resource support to help sustain, augment, or rebuild community action capacity in areas most impacted by the hurricane and subsequent evacuation and relocation.
Both the Mississippi and Louisiana community action associations have set up relief funds:
Mississippi Association of Community Action Agencies (MACAA)
The Louisiana and Mississippi community action associations are in need of donated household and personal hygiene items (i.e. bedding, detergent, clothes, generators, and baby products). These items can be sent directly to:
LACAP Disaster Relief Fund
Mississippi Association of Community Action Agencies (MACAA)
Coordination of Services
Affected individuals and families, whether they remain in their “home” communities or are relocated due to evacuation and then longer-term placements, will need a variety of basic services and supports that span beyond the programs or responsibilities of any one agency.
While local CAAs may not ultimately organize or lead coordinated service delivery initiatives in many communities, OCS envisions that community action will be a key partner and supporter of such efforts in every community. For those local agencies that have experience with coordinated service delivery, including the use of case managers to orchestrate help to individuals and families from many sources and programs, OCS encourages expansion of these initiatives to serve those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Every local agency should help make sure that linkages are meaningful among service providers, and that someone is assigned to “mentor” or be a lead source of emotional support and assistance for all displaced individuals or families.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a toll-free hotline for people in crisis in the aftermath of this disaster. People in crisis are urged to call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Callers will receive counseling from trained staff who will listen and assist in getting the mental health help callers need.
CAAs have a number of natural funding allies in their communities including Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It is incumbent that the CAAs have a role in determining how these funds should be used in their communities. States have the flexibility to reprogram available LIHEAP funds to respond to this emergency situation. A total of $27.25 million LIHEAP emergency contingency funds were made available to four states—Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi - to help them meet additional energy related needs resulting from the extraordinary flooding and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. LIHEAP-Information Memorandum -2005-17 provided grantees with information on the distribution of LIHEAP emergency contingency funds released on September 3, 2005.
HHS has authorized the widespread use of existing funds to be channeled to immediate efforts to counteract the effects of the hurricanes. At this time, it is not clear what additional funds will be appropriated or when they will be available. As such, every effort is being taken to respond within the constraints of our current budget. HHS has developed a number of proposals that seek to respond to the critical and emergent needs of the areas affected by the hurricanes. We will certainly keep constituent agencies apprised of the outcome as soon as we can as they affect the agencies' ability to deliver much needed services to affected and impacted areas.
We continue to appreciate the extraordinary efforts CAAs have made to address the needs of citizens affected by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. We understand the enormous challenges - emotional, psychological and financial - that you have undertaken in responding to this crisis and are working to reduce barriers and provide assistance in whatever form we can as soon as we can.
Wade F. Horn, Ph.D.
Assistant Secretary for
Children and Families