WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday questioned U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson during a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies hearing about the department’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2020, which completely eliminates the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG). Currently, HUD allows federal CDBG dollars to be used to support municipalities dealing with crumbling foundations in Connecticut through the Connecticut Department of Housing’s Small Cities Program. However, the current budget proposal eliminates funding for the program. Through his work on the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee, Murphy secured $3.365 billion for the CDBG program for Fiscal Year 2019. During the hearing, Murphy also secured a commitment from Carson to establish a single point of contact at the department for matters related to crumbling foundations.
Last year, Murphy introduced the Aid to Homeowners with Crumbling Foundations Act, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), that would provide $100 million over five years from HUD to states like Connecticut that have created non-profit crumbling foundations assistances funds to repair damage to residential structures due to pyrrhotite. In June, Carson visited eastern Connecticut, at the invitation of Murphy, to hear firsthand from homeowners hurt by crumbling foundations due to pyrrhotite. After his visit, Murphy, along with Blumenthal, and U.S. Representatives John Larson (CT-1) and Joe Courtney (CT-2) wrote to Carson asking for the department to urge President Trump to issue a disaster declaration to release federal disaster dollars to address the crisis. In January, the Congress approved an amendment written by Murphy and supported by Blumenthal, Courtney and Larson to direct the Government Accountability Office to outline regulatory and legislative actions to help mitigate the financial impact of crumbling foundations.
“I want to also thank you for working with us to allow for CDBG funds to be used by municipalities in order to help address this problem … So, given the one step forward that we made on allowing CDBG funds to be used by the state of Connecticut to help address this problem, how do you explain the two steps back now? So you're proposing to eliminate those dollars. How do we continue to work together if we don't have those CDBG dollars as a HUD financing vehicle to try to address this crisis issue in Connecticut,” said Murphy.
A complete transcript of Murphy’s exchange with Secretary Carson is below:
MURPHY: Thank you Madam Chairman, good to see you again Mr. Secretary. I want to thank you for coming to Connecticut last June to hear firsthand about the pernicious issue in Connecticut of foundations that are crumbling to the ground affecting some potential 30 thousand homes in eastern and central Connecticut. This is a problem that is affecting property values throughout Connecticut but in particular the eastern and central and northern of our state. And I want to also thank you for working with us to allow for CDBG funds to be used by municipalities in order to help address this problem. Admittedly, for many of these towns which don't receive significant amounts of CDBG dollars this is a drop in the bucket, but as you challenged Connecticut to do, the state has also put up 100 million dollars, stood up a captive insurance company, and pressured insurers to stand up as well.
So, given the one step forward that we made on allowing CDBG funds to be used by the state of Connecticut to help address this problem, how do you explain the two steps back now? So you're proposing to eliminate those dollars. How do we continue to work together if we don't have those CDBG dollars as a HUD financing vehicle to try to address this crisis issue in Connecticut. What do you suggest as someone that has seen these homes and heard the stories of these homeowners that we do together if we don't have CDBG dollars as your budget proposes eliminating.
CARSON: Well you know certainly my heart goes out to those people who in many cases have invested their life savings in their homes to have this happen, you know I'm happy to see that some of the insurance companies have stepped up to the plate after hiding in the beginning. And I'm happy to see that the state’s there. You know I've talked to multiple people on the federal government level about what's happening with the Pyrrhotite there. It is not something that we would traditionally do at HUD, I think you probably understand that, but we have, you know, allowed the a million dollars to be repurposed for the testing and recently added another 480,000. And we will be willing to work with you in any way that we can because it’s a significant problem as far as I'm concerned it’s a disaster but not everyone agrees that that is the case.
MURPHY: I appreciate that, and as you know Senator Blumenthal and I have proposed some new funding sources, one of which would run through HUD in order to assist in remediation. One simple request that the towns, the state, and the individuals working at our captive insurance agency asked me to relay to you, is they thought it would be very useful to have one designated point person at HUD that they could work with and be in contact with as we try to examine new creative ways that we can work with the federal government. And I would ask if you would work with us on designating someone who can develop some expertise on this question.
CARSON: No problem.