Studies have shown white survivors, and those with higher incomes, are often more likely to receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after natural disasters hit. FEMA has been under fire as an agency since Hurricane Katrina, but a new bill seeks to close the gap in terms of disaster funds disbursement.
A new piece of legislation, sponsored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would require FEMA to center equity in its programs and change how it collects data to flag and fix disparities, reported by NBC News.
“Whether you receive assistance after a disaster shouldn’t depend on your zip code or background,” Thompson, whose district spanning the Mississippi Delta is one of the poorest regions in the country, said in a statement. “It’s past time that the Federal government — and particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency — makes disaster assistance equity a real priority to reduce barriers to recovery.”
The legislation would also allow local governments affected by disasters to request aid directly from FEMA in some circumstances. With the Stafford Act, governors have the final say in requesting major disaster declarations. The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to review whether FEMA’s criteria to consider states’ requests for help affect “equity for underserved communities.” In September of last year, FEMA changed its requirements for Black families to verify home ownership to receive disaster aid.
“For too long, frontline communities have been disproportionately impacted by the devastating effects of natural disasters, and this injustice is exacerbated by the distribution of relief,” Warren said in a statement. “We must work towards achieving greater equity in FEMA’s disaster response.”
NBC News reported in March that the federal government was less likely to grant aid through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program following storms with highly localized damage. Wealthy homeowners are more likely to receive aid than those of poorer income.