WASHINGTON – Almost a year after being urged to tackle racial inequalities in disaster programs in the United States, officials are still trying to decide how to deal with the problem, according to a document released by the agency on Wednesday Federal Emergency Management.
The agency responded to recommendations made in November by its own advisory committee. This is the latest evidence of the challenges the Biden administration faces in its efforts to reduce racial disparities in climate policy.
âThe language is really ‘We will explore, we will identify, we will consider, we will investigate,â said James R. Elliott, a professor of sociology at Rice University who has studied racial disparities in FEMA programs. . “There seems to be a lot of hems and guy lines.”
A growing body of research shows that FEMA, the government agency responsible for helping Americans recover from disasters, often helps white victims more than people of color, even when the damage amount is the same. Not only individual white Americans often receive more help from FEMA, but the communities in which they live as well, according to several recent studies based on federal data.
âI don’t think any of their policies are intentionally designed to be uneven,â said Emily Gallagher, a finance professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who has studied racial disparities in FEMA grants.
She said the data instead showed that the agency’s programs favored disaster victims who are wealthy and homeowner, and who are more likely to be white, over low-income individuals and families, who are more likely. to be people of color.
“This is a really difficult problem to solve,” said Dr Gallagher. Based on FEMA’s response to its advisory committee, she added: “I really feel like they’re still working on it.”
Citing data on racial disparities, FEMA’s National Advisory Council, a group of emergency management experts appointed by the agency, concluded in November that FEMA was not fulfilling its legal obligation to help victims of disasters without racial or other discrimination.
“Many FEMA programs ignore the principle of equity,” the report says.
The board made four agency-specific recommendations to tackle racial disparities more effectively.
First, he called on FEMA to create a “fairness standard” – measures that would show whether the agency’s grant programs “increase or decrease fairness over time.”
Second, the council recommended that FEMA decide how to make its grants to state and local governments more equitable, and that it put in place a new system by the end of 2021. Data shows that the wealthiest communities have tend to get more money from FEMA than their poorer counterparts, even when the scale of the disaster is the same.
Third, the council called on FEMA to create a training program for its workers to make them more sensitive to racial diversity, equity and inclusion.
Finally, the board called on FEMA to establish clear guidelines and policies for hiring a workforce that âreflects the populations it servesâ. The board asked the agency to establish these training and hiring practices by mid-2021.
Based on its response released Wednesday, FEMA has yet to respond to any of these recommendations.
The agency noted that it had entrusted the responsibility of creating a standard of fairness to the advisory board itself, adding that it “looks forward to receiving the resulting recommendations” in the board’s next annual report. FEMA also said it always assesses the fairness of its state and local government grant programs and will consider changes once that assessment is completed.
On training, FEMA said it would âreviewâ current programs and develop a new one if necessary. And the agency said it was “expanding our outreach, recruiting and engagement efforts to hire,” but made no mention of any new guidelines or specific hiring policies.
FEMA’s response so far noted few tangible policy changes to address racial equity. Among those she identified was the creation of a group to examine fairness issues, which the agency said had come up with a definition of what fairness means to FEMA: “Treatment consistent and systematic fair, just and impartial of all individuals. “
Justin Knighten, FEMA’s director of external affairs and a member of the agency’s equity task force, said the agency had taken steps that were not mentioned in the document.
“The agency has moved across the board, on many different fronts, to advance equity,” Knighten said in an interview. He said the agency’s response to its advisory committee “demonstrates this movement, but also where we have more work to do.”
He highlighted the decision of make it easier for disaster victims to get help even if they cannot provide specific documents proving ownership of their property – a requirement that had disproportionately hurt black families in the South who have inherited their homes.
Mr Knighten said FEMA would reveal more about its racial equity plans in its latest strategic plan, which he said was expected by the end of this year.
But academics who study racial disparities in FEMA programs said the response showed an agency was still trying to figure out how to respond to growing criticism.
FEMA’s response does not provide enough information to know how seriously it takes racial equity and whether its measures are likely to work, according to Junia Howell, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“They could have been a lot more explicit,” said Dr Howell, whose research has shown disaster aid exacerbates racial inequalities. âWhen we see the actions of FEMA, we will see how collectively we are moving towards a government that serves all of its people. “