The FEMA team that will analyze Californian earthquake aid distribution

After weeks of revelations about the slow pace of FEMA’s progress in distributing earthquake aid to the West Coast, the agency wrote in an announcement last week that it is “committed to continuing to…

The FEMA team that will analyze Californian earthquake aid distribution

After weeks of revelations about the slow pace of FEMA’s progress in distributing earthquake aid to the West Coast, the agency wrote in an announcement last week that it is “committed to continuing to work to eliminate systemic issues and access problems that slow the distribution of disaster assistance”. The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency is now rushing to gather more disaster data from the west coast states in order to document progress on race, gender and other variables, in line with President Obama’s promise to provide greater oversight of disaster aid.

FEMA announced in a Wednesday press release:

A team of FEMA officials will travel to California, Washington and Oregon within the next 10 days to review case files and communications to quantify racial disparity issues in distribution of assistance. They are expected to further build on the agency’s efforts to quantify identifying ways to improve distribution and ultimately eliminate systemwide inequities. The team will work with partner agencies, including state and local officials, to identify differences and ways to improve distribution.

FEMA says it recently completed a survey to determine systemic race and gender gaps in disaster aid distribution. The results, the department wrote in its announcement, will help the agency “identify how to best provide more direct assistance to disaster victims” and evaluate whether it can reduce the disparities.

Local and national media has recently been reporting on the acute lopsidedness of the west coast’s disaster relief efforts, which in California’s case have reportedly relied heavily on black and Latino contractors while neglecting more affluent white ones.

Watch this report from San Jose’s KPIX 4, following the effects of a major earthquake and earthquake retrofitting project:

The next challenge is providing greater, more detailed access to data on why some people’s applications are delayed or denied. The information the team will collect will provide a baseline to assess the legitimacy of claims. An official on the team that will visit California and Oregon, Kristen Tipp, told KPIX that it would be a matter of a few months before the information is “planted” in the department’s systems and can be used to improve delivery of relief efforts.

The publicity surrounding the California quake temblor quickly linked aid distribution to racial inequalities. An informal meeting in Los Angeles to call for a share of aid was widely held by the powerful but attended by only 16 people, including representatives of black and Latino civil rights groups, bloggers and media outlets – all of whom gathered to discuss relief needs, not race.

The meeting was planned by the city’s editorial boards and intended to address community needs. But Oakland’s mayoral candidate Rev. Libby Schaaf, who had been on the advisory committee, withdrew when she learned the meeting was to discuss access to disaster relief. Schaaf said she did not find the racial inequities the meeting was supposed to discuss convincing.

Councilmember Noel Gallo told a press conference there was “genuine confusion” about the underlying issue in areas of increased disparities. Gallo was, however, honest:

And even with the best of intentions and just making sure that we’re looking to the fact that FEMA is a great public entity with limited resources, it is not enough to decide, well, we’re going to make sure that we don’t give 50% of the aid to other racial groups because they have a greater risk for death. That’s not a reasonable response.

Earlier this month, Obama issued a statement on these disparities, declaring that “this administration is committed to reducing disparities – and they are not acceptable”.

Earlier this month, Obama issued a statement on these disparities, declaring that “this administration is committed to reducing disparities – and they are not acceptable”.

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