FEMA Announces Significant Changes to Individual Assistance Program Urged by NLIHC’s DHRC

FEMA released today a long-awaited Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register. The rule includes significant modifications to FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) program to expand the amount of assistance available to disaster survivors and address long-standing barriers that have prevented millions of disaster survivors from receiving the assistance they were owed. The changes to the IA program announced in the Interim Final Rule would not have been made without the determined and decades-spanning advocacy conducted by the members and partners of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC).

Low-income households and their communities receive far less assistance than they need to recover after disasters and regularly experience significant barriers to accessing that assistance. The application process of FEMA’s IA program is notoriously complicated, and program rules typically favor higher-income applicants when determining the amount of assistance to provide. The new rule, “Individual Assistance Program Equity,” was first mentioned by FEMA in 2022, and advocates have been awaiting its release since then. The reforms announced in the rule remove several barriers to assistance and expand the amount of repair and housing aid available for both lower-income renters and homeowners. The interim final rule will take effect on March 22, 2024.

The barriers to adequate assistance addressed in the rules have affected millions of disaster-impacted households around the country. For decades, advocates in disaster-impacted areas have catalogued the consequences of these barriers, struggled against them to serve their disaster-impacted communities, and pushed Congress and FEMA for their removal. The new change in FEMA policy would not have been possible without these efforts. Indeed, the rule explicitly cites portions of comments submitted in the past by the DHRC and its members regarding needed reforms that were considered in making the changes.

The DHRC thanks FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell for making the long-awaited reforms. NLIHC will continue to monitor implementation of the new policies and push for legislative reforms that codify the changes in statute, broaden their scope, and strengthen their application to help ensure that all disaster survivors – including low-income households, individuals experiencing homelessness, individuals with disabilities, individuals with low English proficiency, and others – receive the assistance they need to fully recover.

NLIHC will host a webinar in the coming weeks to help advocates better understand the scope of the changes announced in the interim rule. Stay tuned for more information.

Read more about the implemented improvements.

To learn more about disaster recovery and housing, join the DHRC’s Disaster Recovery Working Group, which meets every Wednesday. Learn more about the DHRC and register as a member here.