FEMA Program Assistance Reforms Support Nearly 100,000 Additional Disaster Survivors

The U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery hosted FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell for a hearing on June 14 to review FEMA’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget proposal. In her opening statement, Administrator Criswell highlighted recent efforts by FEMA to improve access to disaster recovery resources for marginalized disaster survivors, including changes to documentation requirements long called for by NLIHC and the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC). Administrator Criswell explained that “changing the types of documentation we accept allowed 42,000 homeowners and over 53,000 renters to receive assistance from FEMA who just a year before we would have denied assistance. . . . The total amount [of this assistance] was about $350 million.”

For decades, FEMA required homeowners to submit title documents to receive assistance, and the agency refused to accept alternative documentation. This requirement effectively barred low-income homeowners and renters – predominantly households of color – from receiving the FEMA Individual Assistance for which they were eligible. Under FEMA’s new policy, implemented in September 2021, disaster survivors can now self-certify ownership of their homes when they do not have other documentation, overcoming a major hurdle to recovery. FEMA also now allows all survivors to submit a broader array of documents to prove occupancy and ownership of their homes.

These reforms were developed and advanced by NLIHC and DHRC, with its more than 850 organizational partners nationwide, and were also championed by legislative partners Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY).

“These changes are much needed and long overdue,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel in a press release on the subject. “Work to reform FEMA’s harmful policies began with efforts by NLIHC and disaster survivors and partners in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and they were continued by the DHRC and advocates in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Michael, in California after several wildfires, and in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where over 77,000 households were wrongfully denied FEMA assistance due to title issues. We will continue to advocate other critically needed legislation to ensure the lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors receive the assistance they need to recover.”

NLIHC and DHRC will continue to monitor implementation of the new policy and urge Congress to enact the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act,” introduced by Senator Warren and Representative Espaillat, to make these reforms permanent and ensure that the lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors remain stably housed.

Watch a recording of the hearing at: https://bit.ly/3tEpNCo

Read NLIHC’s press statement on the new policy at: https://bit.ly/3Ht9uOC

Read the text of the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act” at: https://bit.ly/3tGebPs