Sen. Warren and Rep. Thompson Introduce FEMA Equity Act

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, introduced the “Federal Emergency Management Advancement of Equity Act” (FEMA Equity Act) on May 5. The bill addresses systemic inequities that can emerge during the federal response to disasters. Individuals with low incomes are often the most impacted by disasters but receive the least amount of assistance afterward. The FEMA Equity Act would address this problem by standardizing FEMA’s approach to collecting information on equity and the ways the agency integrates such information in its programs

Specifically, the bill would improve FEMA’s data collection system to better identify inequities, including barriers to access and disparate outcomes, direct FEMA to design and integrate criteria into the agency’s programs to measure their effectiveness when it comes to equity, create an equity steering group and advisor to review equity-related reforms, and allow local governments to request disaster declarations.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell has made equity a focus of her tenure at the agency. In addition to implementing reforms to the Individual Assistance Program that had been long pushed for by NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), the agency included equity within its latest strategic plan. However, issues remain, with FEMA recently charging low-income disaster survivors rent for temporary housing in Louisiana – pushing many survivors of Hurricane Laura into homelessness.

“Whether you receive assistance after a disaster shouldn’t depend on your zip code or background,” said Chairman Thompson in a press release announcing the bill’s introduction. “For decades, we have seen low-income communities and communities of color left behind after a disaster strikes. It’s past time that the Federal government – and particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency – makes disaster assistance equity a real priority to reduce barriers to recovery.  While I am glad that the Biden Administration has made many positive changes to the Federal government’s disaster management programs, we must make these changes permanent and expand on these efforts. I thank Senator Warren for working with me for years on this issue, and I hope my colleagues will consider this legislation as soon as possible.”

Read the text of the bill here:

Read the press release announcing the bill’s introduction here: