Today Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), along with Congressman Sam Graves (R-Tarkio), sent a letter to FEMA Acting Administrator Peter Gaynor seeking clarification on the agency’s policy for offering Individual Assistance (IA) to constituents dealing with historic flooding. The lawmakers noted that Missourians are frustrated with “FEMA’s confusing and poorly-communicated process for providing Individual Assistance (IA) to those in need.”
In the letter, the lawmakers write, “[C]ritical aspects of FEMA’s IA policy remain undefined. For instance, many constituents are unsure of what constitutes ‘sustained damage.’ Likewise, FEMA representatives have been unable to show us a standardized method for determining when non-FEMA resources (e.g. state disaster assistance or other federal programs) will be insufficient for a given disaster response effort. This matters since IA only becomes available once FEMA has made this determination.”
Full text can be found below.
July 31, 2019
The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Acting Administrator Gaynor:
We are writing in regards to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to the massive flooding that has affected Missourians since earlier this year. We are grateful for all FEMA has done to provide Public and Individual Assistance to affected communities. At the same time, many of our constituents are frustrated by FEMA’s confusing and poorly-communicated process for providing Individual Assistance (IA) to those in need.
For many of our constituents, the flooding began on March 11th and has continued ever since. Even though water levels fell by April 17th, these constituents had less than two weeks before the floods started again on April 29th. In that time, many were unable to access their homes, no less rebuild what was lost or damaged. Many constituents have raised concerns that they were deemed ineligible for IA because their flooding started in March – when the Missouri River was at its highest – while the approved incident period for IA only covers disasters that occurred between April 29th and July 5th. To the people living through this flood, it is one continuing flood event – not two separate flood events as has been determined by DR-4435 and DR-4451.
Our latest talks with FEMA indicate the agency has adjusted its policy so that any individual whose home has had “sustained damage” since April 29th may be eligible for IA. However, it is not clear that this policy adjustment has been properly communicated to constituents in need. Moreover, while the agency has opened disaster recovery centers (DRCs) in affected counties, constituents often either do not know about or cannot access those DRCs. Constituents also report that FEMA’s phone representatives are frequently uncooperative.
At the same time, critical aspects of FEMA’s IA policy remain undefined. For instance, many constituents are unsure of what constitutes “sustained damage.” Likewise, FEMA representatives have been unable to show us a standardized method for determining when non-FEMA resources (e.g. state disaster assistance or other federal programs) will be insufficient for a given disaster response effort. This matters since IA only becomes available once FEMA has made this determination.
With these difficulties in mind, we would be grateful for your responses to the following:
- What conditions must an individual meet to be eligible for Individual Assistance?
- How does FEMA determine when non-FEMA resources can no longer provide adequate assistance to individuals?
- Why does FEMA choose to use counties as the unit for determining whether a particular part of Missouri has sustained enough damage to qualify for Individual Assistance? Does this choice disadvantage counties that are less-densely populated?
- Will you agree to allow our offices to send caseworkers to disaster recovery centers and/or other FEMA locations in order to help our constituents navigate the Individual Assistance application process?
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.
United States Senator
United States Senator
Member of Congress