From the WashPost: FEMA pressed on historically high rejection rates for disaster survivors.
At a time of worsening natural disasters and with the Biden administration leaning more heavily on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to handle a host of crises, the head of the agency was called before Congress on Wednesday to explain to a key subcommittee why FEMA’s approval rates for disaster survivors who apply for help have fallen to historic lows.
Having dealt with FEMA for 40 years the promise to better next time rings hollow. This reflects not only on President Biden and Administrator Criswell. Such promises have been made constantly since the Clinton/Witt Administration began dismantling the Stafford Act. Throw in the complaining and whining by OMB, GAO and the OIG that FEMA surreptitiously responds to. Congress under PKEMRA (2006, Bush/Paulison), SRIA (2013, Obama/Fugate) changed Congressional intent from “expedite disaster recovery” to save the federal government money. Congress further delimited FEMA’s role under DRRA (2018, Trump/Long) with the proposed changes to disaster declaration criteria (12/14/20) not yet vacated by President Biden.
Presidential major (DR) or emergency (EM) disaster declarations are few & far between. Numerous EMs never generate grants. EMs without a penny of grant awards should not be counted. (COIVD 19 was first nationally declared as an EM then duplicated as DRs; double counting.) Fire Management Assistance declarations (FMAGs) are not Presidential declarations. The only common denominator is that declarations are made as a result of circumstances the mighty federal government cannot control. Before blaming locals consider who bought (Manhattan, Louisiana) or fought to bring additional territory into the US? What legislative body encouraged settlement of tornado alley? Federal agencies own big percentages of land in some states but do not mitigate the hazards they own/create. The only declared major disaster the causing federal agency paid for, that I am aware of, is the uncontrolled burn/wildfire (Cerro Grande, 2000) in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Many other federal disaster assistance programs are lauded and celebrated for fulfilling their mission.
No matter what and under every administrator since 9/11 FEMA is criticized and berated.
Stafford Act amendments, critiques from inside the Beltway, “critiques” from “Think Tanks all generate promises. My observation is that none have made FEMA better.
Observing the Individual Assistance process shows that it is made available in less than 50% of Presidential Major disaster declarations. Average grants are far below the Congressionally determined/tolerated maximum grant amount. The knee jerk denials, without question, drive survivors to give up. Survivors who do not persevere/appeal allow FEMA to claim it is saving the federal government money.
The Public Assistance process “managed” under the Orwellian Sloth known as the Portal uses bureaucracy, environmental compliance and procurement compliance as weapons of delay and frustration. “Satisfying” the process demands of the Portal administered by anonymous “leadership” drives up restoration costs. FEMA staff and unlimited consulting staff cajole governmental and nonprofit applicants to withdraw disaster damages which voids their appeal rights. FEMA claims it is saving the federal government money. Some states abet the costly FEMA delaying tactics by standing idly by.
“Saving” the federal government money, under a FEMA proxy, may appease OMB, GAO, OIG and Think tankers but it just transfers the costs to applicants and delays recovery. One way or the other it is all taxpayer’s money.
FEMA will do better when Congress goes back to expediting disaster recovery and removing man made delays that only serve to increase costs. Administrative improvements can be done within existing law, regulation, policy & budgets. Legislative improvements require a long, thorough mirror gazing by members of Congress.