FEMA Closes Gap That Prevented Many Black Families in South From Receiving Disaster Aid

Amid widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Ida, FEMA has decided to revise a strict policy that blocked many Black survivors in the South from receiving disaster relief aid.

On Thursday the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced changes to an age-old policy that prevented relief to those who inherited their home without a will, NBC reports. Now the government is finding new ways to verify homeownership for disaster relief applicants who lack certain legal documents for their inherited property.

The change comes in response to backlash from Black families in the Deep South who have been negatively impacted by the strict rule. Many Black survivors have seemingly been denied aid in rebuilding their homes after catastrophic storms due to lack of proving home ownership.

“Our Department has an obligation to ensure we provide equal access to disaster relief and assistance to all survivors who are in need,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement.

“Equity is a cornerstone of our homeland security mission and in all of our work we must reach minority communities, the disadvantaged and the otherwise disenfranchised. The changes we are announcing today reflect our commitment to always do better in achieving this moral imperative.”

For years, FEMA relief looked for documents in the form of deeds to prove that land belonged to disaster victims in order to receive relief funds. While the practice was meant to prevent fraud, it ended up pushing away many Black applicants who inherited their homes without a will.

“This is a culture shift for the agency and we are only just beginning,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

“These new changes reduce the barriers to entry for our Individual Assistance program and will help us to provide more equitable disaster support to all survivors, specifically for underserved populations. Heading into the peak of hurricane season with 12 named Atlantic storms to date, and as wildfires strengthen out west, FEMA continues to put equity at the forefront of how we support survivors before, during and after disasters.”

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