Commission on Civil Rights Releases Report on Federal Response to Hurricanes Maria and Harvey

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) released a landmark report detailing the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, “Civil Rights and Protections during the Federal Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria.” The 900-page report is the first examination by the commission of the civil rights implications of federal disaster response. The report extensively cites testimony by NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel, as well as numerous statements and documents created by members and partners of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), including Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, Disability Rights Texas, Fundacion Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, FURIA Inc., Texas Appleseed, the H.O.M.E. Coalition, Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, Planners for Puerto Rico, Texas Housers, and Texas Rio Grande Legal Assistance.

“In the days following a disaster, there is an expectation that the federal government, along with state and local governments, will come to the aid of affected residents,” explains the executive summary of the report. “There is also the expectation that assistance will be prompt and ameliorate any unnecessary suffering. As in all government services, there is also a need to ensure fairness and equality. Natural disasters are often thought of as ‘leveling agents’ that affect all individuals equally; however, research has shown that disasters can exacerbate existing disparities and have more lasting impacts on communities that were disadvantaged prior to the disaster.”

Among the report’s recommendations are the following:

  • Clearer guidelines for the aid application process should be established, including a more streamlined portal for the intake of federal disaster assistance applications and a process for sharing data across all responding agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • Federal agencies, local governments, and aid organizations should work to collaborate more closely. Disaster recovery experts assert that public engagement with stakeholders should begin with emergency planning and response and continue through the closeout of recovery and mitigation programs.
  • The recovery and mitigation process should focus on survivors with the greatest needs, particularly people of color, low-income people, people with disabilities, immigrants, members of LGBTQ communities, and other marginalized individuals.
  • FEMA should provide disability training to all shelter personnel, including registration, medical, and security workers. FEMA should work with state and local partners to find and locate persons with disabilities who will have trouble evacuating to shelters. The agency should also ensure that such shelters have electricity for electric-dependent persons (i.e., those who rely on ventilators and similar medical equipment, as well as those who need access to refrigeration, such as people with diabetes).
  • FEMA should hire and train staff fluent in the languages spoken in disaster areas and ensure information and applications for all assistance programs are available in relevant languages and can be submitted in such languages.

Read the text of the report at: