NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition urge FEMA to ensure assistance for disaster survivors
Washington, DC – The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and its Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to take urgent action to address the wrongful denial of Individual Assistance (IA) to eligible low-income disaster survivors from Hurricanes Fiona and Ian. FEMA must act immediately to ensure that all disaster survivors receive the assistance for which they are eligible.
For decades, FEMA required disaster-impacted homeowners to submit title documents to receive assistance, and the agency refused to accept alternative documentation. This requirement effectively barred low-income homeowners – predominantly Black and Latino households – from receiving the assistance for which they are eligible. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, for example, over 77,000 households were wrongfully denied needed FEMA assistance due to title issues.
Last year, after years of advocacy by NLIHC and our partners, FEMA updated its policy. Under FEMA’s new policy, survivors can now self-certify ownership of their homes when they do not have other documentation, overcoming a major hurdle to recovery. FEMA policy also allows all survivors to submit a broader array of documents to prove occupancy and ownership of their homes. Now, troubling reports from partners in Puerto Rico and Florida indicate that FEMA has again reverted to its harmful policy of denying needed assistance to certain homeowners.
Preliminary data in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona indicate that 10% of all denied applications involve some form of failure to verify ownership – an issue that may be addressed through the use of a self-declarative form. Although such denials may be preliminary and applicants may appeal, in practice, low-income applicants are unlikely to take those steps without access to legal assistance, given the difficult and time-consuming appeals process. These persistent barriers prevent the thousands of mobile homeowners whose homes were impacted by Hurricane Ian from accessing the FEMA assistance to which they are entitled.
“Despite recent changes to FEMA policy to address decades-long title documentation barriers that wrongfully prevented many of the lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors from accessing FEMA assistance, persistent challenges remain,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “Without immediate action by FEMA to resolve these issues, disaster survivors will be effectively barred from receiving FEMA assistance altogether, and may face displacement and, in worse cases, homelessness.”
NLIHC urges FEMA to take immediate actions, including educating staff and contractors that current policy allows disaster survivors to submit self-declarative statements without notarization and correct inaccurate information FEMA provided to survivors; providing self-declarative statements at Disaster Recovery centers, on the FEMA website, and as an attachment to the IA application; and raising awareness through an information campaign detailing the application process for Individual Assistance, including self-declaration statements.
NLIHC letter to FEMA is available at: https://bit.ly/3Tz0SuI
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