USA: How disasters can increase inequality

Source(s): PBS NewsHour, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions

By Gretchen Frazee


Surprisingly, the researchers found that the more aid a county receives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, the more inequality increases.

The reason? “The focus is on property and not people” affected by natural disasters, said Howell, who also pointed to research showing climate change is making natural disasters more frequent and more extreme.

Typically, FEMA, nonprofits, and private insurance companies all pay out aid based on the property that was damaged — a formula that can end up benefiting richer white Americans who tend to own more property. Homeowners, for example, often get enough money to not only make up for their loss, but upgrade their homes. White Americans also tend to live in areas where property values are higher, so insurance pays out more money to rebuild after a disaster.


What’s the solution? As part of the new study, Urban Institute researchers recommend that federal aid focus more on long-term recovery efforts. The study also suggested improving the bureaucratic process people use to request assistance after a storm, and dedicating more resources to low-income communities before a disaster hits.


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