Who gets help after a hurricane or flood? FEMA will start following him by race

In the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, and other disasters, most Americans know you can seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA. What they don’t know is that since 2002 almost half of these applicants have been turned down.

As of this year, some 15 million households have requested assistance through the agency’s Individual Assistance Division; around 7.5 million households were refused assistance, according to a Analysis of E&E news. Journalists and watch groups received little information on the reasons. Demographic information, such as race, ethnicity, gender, tribal affiliation, marital status, and education level, is lacking, making it impossible to track the equity priorities of the community. federal agency and discrimination screening.

It could change.

Recently, the agency decided to seek permission from the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, to begin asking people to provide this demographic information when they seek FEMA assistance, such as first reported by E&E News and confirmed to Grist by a FEMA official. The move will allow government watchdogs and the federal agency to determine whether there is discrimination in the way the group distributes these funds. FEMA has distributed approximately $ 26 billion through its Individual Assistance Division since 2002.

However, demographic details will not be used to determine whether an applicant is eligible for disaster assistance, the FEMA official said.

Historically, the official said, the agency did not have the right to collect demographic data because it was not used to determine eligibility, which is why the agency first requires the approval of the ‘OMB to update the application process.

The move, which follows years of organization by nonprofit disaster recovery and housing organizations, comes as the agency’s aid distribution amounts are should increase climate change continuing to fuel more severe weather events and climate-induced displacement. In 2021, there have been at least 18 disasters with more than $ 1 billion in damage, up 300% from the early 2000s. The data will help confirm any inequities over those affected by disasters and on the demographics most likely to face disasters.

“Systematic barriers can make disaster recovery more difficult for those historically disadvantaged or underserved,” the FEMA spokesperson told Grist. “Collecting this information during the application process will allow FEMA to better assess, identify and resolve issues related to inequalities within disaster assistance programs. “

Using general census demographics, advocacy groups found patterns of discrimination, but household-level data would definitely prove it. In a national poll released this week by the nonprofit political organization group Black to the Future Action Fund, 46 percent of black respondents experienced severe weather this summer. In comparison, a Washington Post analysis found that 32 percent of all Americans have experienced weather disasters this summer.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition is expected to testify on inequalities in disaster recovery at the United States Civil Rights Commission on Dec. 10, the first time in US history that the commission polled FEMA or the results of a disaster recovery plan.

Yentel shared his testimony in advance with Grist, including, “Black and brown communities are often located in areas at higher risk for disaster and have less resilient infrastructure to protect residents from damage. Long-term recovery resources tend to go to white communities that face at risk. ”

She should testify that rather than dismantling racial segregation, FEMA aid and other federal reconstruction efforts “tend to entrench racial disparities.”

FEMA maintains that a candidate’s demographics are never grounds for rejection. Typically, according to FEMA, the main reasons for rejection are that people cannot prove residency, or that applicants’ homes have suffered pre-existing damage not caused by a disaster. Yentel and other advocates argue that rejections disproportionately affect tenants, those facing housing insecurity, undocumented immigrants, and People with Disabilities.

While natural disasters can uproot families and their homes, homeowners have used hurricanes, floods and other wild weather events as a possibility of evicting tenants. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, thousands of low-income tenants in Louisiana and Mississippi faced massive evictions and illegal price hikes, reducing their chances of receiving FEMA assistance. .

According to Yentel, FEMA’s criteria for receiving assistance leaves many survivors in low income, who tend to be people of color, “at increased risk of displacement, deportation and, in the worst case scenario, homelessness ”. A 2018 study by Rice University found that whites who live in counties that have suffered disaster damage and FEMA support have actually seen their increase in personal wealth following the disaster as black residents lost wealth.

So while the disparities are more than apparent, more centralized data collection could shake things up to resolve them. The next step, advocates argue, is to make sure FEMA makes the data publicly available. FEMA has not clarified whether demographic information will be publicly available or when data collection protocols might be approved.

As climate disasters become a regular part of American life, Yentel said, “Our country must develop a new disaster recovery housing system that centers the housing needs of the poorest and most marginalized survivors.”

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