Sneak Preview: DHS May Expand Disaster Assistance Review Criteria

October 25, 2012 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

(The following was excerpted from an article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing how it determines a jurisdiction’s ability to respond to and recover from a disaster including its ability to do so without federal assistance after a recent Government Accountability Office report found that the current criterion the agency uses is outdated.

The federal government received 629 disaster declaration requests between 2004 and 2011, and approved 539 (86 percent), with 71 percent of these declarations due to severe storms. The Federal Emergency Management Agency obligated about $80 billion, or an average of $10 billion a year, from the Disaster Relief Fund during this period. However, FEMA anticipated that when all 539 declarations are closed, total DRF obligations will be about $91.5 billion, exceeding the anticipated amount obligated.

FEMA primarily relies on a single criterion, the per capita damage indicator, to determine whether to recommend to the President that a jurisdiction should receive public assistance funding. This indicator was set at $1 in 1986, and rose only to $1.35 as of fiscal year 2012. For example, a state with 10 million people would generally have to incur $13.5 million in estimated eligible disaster damages to public structures for FEMA to recommend that a disaster declaration is warranted. However, this increase does not truly reflect the rise in per capital personal income since then or the effects of inflation. GAO determined that the rate would be $3.57 in 2011 had it been adjusted for increase in per capita income and $2.07 in 2012 had it been adjusted for inflation.

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