The U.S. was hit hard last year by an unprecedented number of billion-dollar disasters, stretching federal funds thin. Such extreme weather is only expected to become more frequent as climate change worsens, FEMA noted in its press release about the reforms.

Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of Columbia Climate School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, said in an email to Smart Cities Dive that the reforms seem to substantively respond to many of the concerns disaster survivors have with FEMA’s current process.

“With that being said, implementation will be key,” he said, noting a continued need to monitor equity trends in disaster aid provisions to ensure the changes’ desired effect is being realized.

Through its overhaul, FEMA will:

  • Allow all disaster survivors to access immediate cash support, in the form of $750 per household with serious needs, for expenses related to sheltering, evacuation and meeting basic needs. Previously, such immediate financial support was only available on a disaster-by-disaster basis.
  • Provide eligible survivors with upfront funds to use on their choice of immediate housing options, such as costs associated with staying with family and friends, until they can secure a rental option to focus on long-term recovery.
  • Get rid of a requirement that survivors apply for a loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration before being considered for certain FEMA financial assistance. “Survivors reported significant confusion that FEMA processes required they apply for a loan they did not want,” the agency said.
  • Loosen rules that withheld financial assistance from survivors who had already received funds from their insurance company at or above the level of FEMA’s annual cap for household repair assistance. Previously, such people were not able to access more FEMA funds, even if the insurance payment would not cover all rebuilding costs or if the survivor had losses not covered by insurance. Now, financial assistance will be available up to the cap, which is $42,500 in 2024, to cover costs not reimbursed by insurance, including deductibles and underinsured losses.

Read the full article about disaster recovery aid by Ysabelle Kempe at Smart Cities Dive.