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September 28, 2023

Thompson, Warren, Ramirez Introduce Legislation to Address Federal Disaster Response Inequities

(WASHINGTON) – Today, during National Preparedness Month, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Delia C. Ramirez (D-IL), Vice Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, announced introduction of the Federal Emergency Management Advancement of Equity Act (or FEMA Equity Act) to address systemic inequities in the Federal government’s response to disasters and how it distributes assistance. Although low-income communities, communities of color, and other disadvantaged communities are more likely to be directly impacted by the devastating effects of disasters, there is a growing body of evidence and reporting that the assistance administered after disasters does not address these impacts.

Disaster assistance programs have been found to boost wealthy homeowners after disasters, while lower-income households sink further into poverty. Similarly, low-income homeowners that survive disasters are denied financial assistance almost twice the rate as high-income homeowners.  It is also more difficult for low-income communities to access available public funding to appropriately prepare for disasters and promote resilience.

Although the Biden Administration has made disaster response reforms and has prioritized addressing inequities in Federal disaster management programs, this bill requires that the Federal government – and FEMA – make it a standing priority.

The FEMA Equity Act would: 

  • Improve FEMA’s data collection systems to better identify inequities within its programs, including barriers to access and disparate outcomes.
  • Direct FEMA to design and integrate criteria into all of their programs to increase equity, prioritizing programs that provide long-and short-term support for local governments, individual housing assistance, and mitigation funding to address disasters.
  • Authorize in law FEMA’s Equity Enterprise Steering Group and the Equity Advisor to counsel the FEMA Administrator to increase equity across FEMA programs and policies.
  • Direct the Government Accountability Office to examine the factors FEMA considers when evaluating requests for a major disaster or emergency declaration.

“In March, my district was impacted by deadly tornadoes that left immense destruction. The importance of ensuring equity in disaster response is felt by my community daily and I know my community is not alone,” said Congressman Thompson. “That’s why I, along with colleagues, created the Congressional Disaster Equity and Building Resilience Caucus this May to promote the benefits of resilience and the need for equity in the country’s disaster preparedness and response infrastructure. The Federal government – and particularly FEMA – needs to prioritize disaster assistance equity to reduce barriers to recovery.  I applaud the Biden Administration’s ongoing efforts to make FEMA’s programs more equitable and accessible, however, Congress needs to do more to support these efforts. This legislation will ensure that all disaster survivors – no matter their zip code or background – are considered and supported before, during, and after disasters. I look forward to working on getting this legislation considered in the House.”

“For too long, frontline communities have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of natural disasters, and this injustice is exacerbated by relief distribution,” said Senator Warren. “In the wake of the recent floods in Massachusetts, it’s more important than ever that FEMA’s disaster response centers equity so our communities can access the recovery resources they need to get back on their feet and thrive.”

“We recognize that disasters impact everyone and reveal deeply ingrained disparities and inequities that have persisted for generations. Racial and ethnic vulnerable communities with limited financial means and less access to resources bear the brunt of these disasters, primarily due to systemic and environmental injustices plaguing our society.  The FEMA Equity Act is crucial to rectifying this injustice,” said Congresswoman Ramirez. "As a Congressional Disaster Equity and Building Resilience Caucus member, I am honored to co-lead the Federal Emergency Management Advancement of Equity Act alongside the Committee on Homeland Security’s Ranking Member Representative Bennie G. Thompson and Senator Elizabeth Warren to standardize FEMA's approach and bring equity to the federal disaster response. This critical legislation addresses systemic inequities in disaster response and recovery, which have far-reaching impacts, including in Illinois' Third Congressional District and our great state.”

Statements of endorsement for the FEMA Equity Act:

“I-DIEM endorses the House [Disaster] Equity Caucus’ continued commitment and re-introduction of the FEMA Equity Act to ensure the Federal Government addresses inequities, removes barriers, and evaluates and improves programs to provide a level playing field for underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved stakeholders in disasters,” said Chauncia Willis, CEO of the Institute for Diversity and Equity in Emergency Management (I-DIEM).  The focus should be on dignity and hope in supporting inclusive resilience for marginalized communities impacted by extreme events caused by climate change.  We believe that communities should take part in their own resilience, and this act will address inequities from past under-investment, exclusion, and underprioritized practices from all levels of government," Chauncia Willis, CEO and Founder, Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management.

“The HBCU Emergency Management Workforce Consortium express our full support for the ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion work represented in the ‘Federal Emergency Management Advancement of Equity Act’...We believe that the FEMA Equity Act’s diversity, equity, and inclusion ambitions are aligned with, and essential to the needs of the country’s whole communities," Goulda A. Downer, PhD, FAND, RD, LN, CNS, Co-Founder, HBCU Emergency Management Workforce Consortium, and Michael Burns, Co-Founder, HBCU Emergency Workforce Consortium.

“Domestic disasters disproportionately affect underserved communities in the United States. Post-disaster federal assistance to communities, families, and individuals has failed to fully address these inequities and has led to disparate post-disaster outcomes across race and socioeconomic groups. The FEMA Equity Act would support data collection, data analysis, and criteria development to both identify and address inequities in funding - and thus, mitigate inequities in recovery. As the US continues to experience larger and more frequent disasters than ever before, it is imperative to pass the FEMA Equity Act to help ensure justice in disaster relief,” Dr. Elizabeth Albright, Duke University.

The FEMA Equity Act is also cosponsored by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nydia M. Velázquez, Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green, Brian Higgins, Yvette D. Clarke, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Tony Cárdenas, Eric Swalwell, Dina Titus, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Troy A. Carter, Sr., Robert Garcia, Jared Moskowitz, Shri Thanedar, and Dan Goldman

Legislation Fact Sheet

Legislation Text (H.R. 5775 / S. 2961)

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Press Contact

Adam Comis (Homeland Security): 202-225-9978

Alex Sarabia (Warren): 202-224-2292