WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., endorsed the findings of a Government Accountability Office report released Friday which determined that FEMA must improve its crisis counseling program for victims of catastrophic disasters.
“As we saw in Katrina, the effects of a catastrophic disaster on survivors are not limited to property damage and loss,” Lieberman said. “The horrors victims witnessed and endured have long lasting impacts on their psychological well-being. FEMA should take the GAO’s advice to heart and make the necessary improvements to respond to the unique needs of victims who find themselves at a loss after a catastrophic disaster.”
Authors of the GAO report - entitled “Catastrophic Disasters: Federal Efforts Help States Prepare for and Respond to Psychological Consequences, but FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Program Needs Improvements” - reviewed documents and interviewed officials in six states with experience responding to catastrophic disasters. The states were Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Texas, and Washington.
The report found states had significant problems applying for federal funds for crisis counseling programs. It also found that of the 34 states that had mental health and substance abuse disaster plans available for review, most had generally improved their plans over those previously submitted but that the plans still needed additional improvements, state officials also identified problems in implementing crisis counseling programs after catastrophic disasters in part due to FEMA’s policy of not reimbursing states and their service providers for indirect costs. That led to issues in recruiting and retaining service providers. State officials also had difficulties assisting some disaster victims who needed more expanded services than those traditionally provided.
The report included two recommendations for FEMA: The first was to determine what types of expanded crisis counseling services should be formally incorporated into Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) and to make any necessary revisions to program policy. The second was to revise CCP policy to allow states and service providers that receive CCP funds to use them for indirect costs.
A copy of the report can be found here.