The Federal Emergency Management Agency has instituted new measures that will hopefully make it easier for homeowners to receive assistance following Hurricane Ida.
For decades, FEMA has taken criticism as major storms like Katrina, Issac and Dennis hit the south and many Black and brown homeowners struggled to receive federal assistance. Most recently, victims of Hurricane Harvey called the agency out for denying thousands of homeowners assistance because of clerical hurdles. For example, southeast Houston resident Porfirio Deleon was forced out of his home during Hurricane Harvey due to intense flooding. Not long after moving out of his home, he applied to FEMA for assistance and the agency told him that they could not help him because it determined the storm caused "no damage" to his home.
“I don’t know how it works. We’ve tried to get an explanation from FEMA a few times. It took us a while to get somebody on the phone, but we finally did. We never received a straightforward answer why," Deleon told the Houston Press
“They’re really friendly and courteous; however, they’re just not resolving anything."
Further reporting from the Houston Press found that FEMA had denied assistance to more than 200,000 homeowners. FEMA may deny assistance applications for a variety of reasons including insufficient damage and insurance issues. However, one issue tends to impact Black and brown communities more often than not.
In order to receive FEMA assistance, applicants may be asked to submit proof of ownership. However, many Black families pass down homes from generation to generation informally without written wills. Moving forward, FEMA claims that it will be making "sweeping" changes to better assist Black families that may not be able to "formally" prove that they own a home that was damaged by the hurricane.
Under FEMA's new policy, NBC reports that applicants can prove homeownership by submitting receipts for significant repairs or improvements at their homes. In some cases, applicants will be able to self-certify that they own their homes. Adding on, the agency will begin sending representatives to address applicants in person rather than send letters. With that said, FEMA has not indicated what a "significant" repair is or how long the process will take.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that we understand each individual situation is unique and that we need to not have a one-size-fits-all approach,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told NBC.
“We’re going to continue to try to improve our program and make additional changes. Some of them we can do right away, like this. Some of them will require some regulatory change. But we are really driving hard to make these changes.”