Biden Administration implements historic revisions to disaster relief policies

US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on averting default and the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, June 2, 2023. JIM WATSON/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

United States: The administration of US President Joe Biden announced on Friday the most significant revisions to disaster relief in two decades, as climate change-driven extreme weather catastrophes such as floods and fires become more frequent.

FEMA’s changes to federal assistance regulations and increased benefits for disaster survivors are aimed at eliminating red tape, which victims complain creates barriers that prevent them from gaining access to resources after an incident.

“We are on the verge of making the most significant update to survivor assistance in the last 20 years to reach more survivors and deliver assistance faster,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell in a statement.

Administrator’s Vision

According to FEMA, the reforms are based on comments from disaster victims. These were developed to help the agency become a better responder to threats that climate change has created; last year, there were more billion-dollar floods, fires, and other disasters than ever before, according to the report by the Associated Press.

During 2023, the country witnessed a catastrophic fire on Maui- The deadliest in more than one hundred years; severe floods in California, two tornado outbreaks in central states, a winter storm northeast and Hurricane Idalia.

Cash Relief Program Enhancement

Among the additional steps outlined by FEMA is a tweak to its cash relief program, which would offer households a $750 payment for shelter and evacuation in addition to other disaster aid. Previously, the payment was examined as a disaster by catastrophe.

It also established a new “displacement assistance” benefit to provide eligible survivors who are unable to return to their homes with immediate financial aid until they can locate lodgings.

FEMA will also make changes to assist survivors who are underinsured by eliminating the requirement that they apply for a US Small Business Administration (SBA) loan before being considered for certain types of financial assistance, as well as making it easier to obtain repair loans for homes that were previously ineligible due to pre-existing leaks and damage. They also stated that the modifications will take effect for new disasters declared on or after March 22, 2024.

All about FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the federal government’s efforts to prepare for, prevent, mitigate the consequences of, respond to, and recover from all domestic disasters, natural or man-made, including terrorist attacks. FEMA originated with the Congressional Act of 1803. This act, widely regarded as the first piece of disaster law, provided help to a New Hampshire town following a major fire. 

In the following century, more than 100 pieces of ad hoc legislation were passed in reaction to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural catastrophes.