In a research note released earlier this year, Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) member Texas Appleseed outlined its findings following efforts to monitor the ongoing recovery from Hurricanes Ian and Fiona, which struck Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively, last year. Texas Appleseed had monitored data released weekly on FEMA’s OpenFEMA public data tool since the storms struck and outlined its findings during DHRC Disaster Recovery Working Group calls. The recent note, which summarizes the organization’s findings, reveals a disaster recovery effort stymied by large numbers of denied applications and slow disbursements of assistance.
Texas Appleseed found that, as of February 2023, only 41% of applications submitted after Hurricane Ian for FEMA’s Individuals and Households Assistance Program (IHP) had been approved. To make matters worse, only 17% of approved applicants had received housing assistance, with the majority receiving Critical Needs Assistance of less than $700, or Other Needs Assistance, which reimburses recipients for some disaster-related expenses. In Puerto Rico, 59% of applications for FEMA IHP had been approved, but just 2% of applicants had received housing assistance. Consistent with past disasters, it appears that applicants for assistance in Puerto Rico are being disproportionately denied access to housing assistance. Five times as many applicants from Florida are receiving FEMA Housing Assistance compared to applicants from Puerto Rico.
FEMA requires homes to be inspected before approving housing assistance, but FEMA’s own data show that home inspections have lagged significantly behind the rate of applications following both Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Fiona. Just 28% of applicants for assistance following Hurricane Ian and 11% of applicants for assistance following Hurricane Fiona had received inspections as of late January 2023.
In addition, despite recent changes by FEMA to its requirement that homeowners produce title documentation to demonstrate ownership of disaster-damaged homes – changes made after numerous calls from advocates, including the DHRC – title documentation verification requirements have continued to result in many denials of assistance in the aftermath of the two recent hurricanes. By the end of January 2023, 6% of all application determinations, or 17,206 applications, were denied due to lack of home ownership verification or to lack of such verification in conjunction with other factors. The DHRC continues to support legislation broadening the changes made by FEMA to ensure that this obstacle to assistance is removed.
Read a blog post from Texas Appleseed at: https://bit.ly/3Uyi6dz