The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced it will amend a department policy that disproportionately withheld disaster aid from rural Black communities.
Under the previous policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) required applicants for aid to produce specific documents such as deeds to prove their ownership of affected properties. The new policy will expand the allowable documentation to include vehicle registrations, legal documents and signed statements from a benefit provider, social service organization or mobile home park owner.
The more restrictive requirements have long been a stumbling block, particularly for Black families in the rural South, who are less likely to have such records for inherited properties.
A July analysis by The Washington Post found the agency denied assistance over “title issues” in majority-Black counties about twice as often as the national rate. The analysis also found increased issues in rural Southern communities, such as one majority-Black community in Alabama where more than a third of tornado victims were denied over verification issues.
“These new changes reduce the barriers to entry for our Individual Assistance program and will help us to provide more equitable disaster support to all survivors, specifically for underserved populations. Heading into the peak of hurricane season with 12 named Atlantic storms to date, and as wildfires strengthen out west, FEMA continues to put equity at the forefront of how we support survivors before, during, and after disasters,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a statement Thursday.
The announcement comes less than a week after Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana, where more than 200,000 acres of property are inherited, according to NBC News, citing the Agriculture Department. A 2020 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found title issues affected more than 20,000 New Orleans homeowners in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and after Hurricane Maria, in 2017, more than 77,000 aid applications were denied over title problems.