Peters and Lankford Bipartisan Bill to Simplify Application Process for Federal Disaster Assistance Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and James Lankford (R-OK) to simplify the process to apply for federal disaster recovery aid has advanced in the Senate. The legislation would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a universal application across federal agencies for disaster survivors who are seeking federal assistance to recover from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and more. Currently, individuals that seek federal aid to recover from a disaster must fill out separate and detailed applications depending on what agency they need help from – a process that can take weeks or even months. The senators’ legislation would significantly streamline this process to reduce the burden on disaster survivors. The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

“Victims of natural disasters and emergencies in Michigan and across the nation who are trying to recover should not have to face burdensome, complicated processes to apply for federal aid,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will establish a simple, universal application for families who are seeking federal help to rebuild their lives. I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible.”

“Oklahomans are familiar with disasters and the hoops people have to jump through to get federal disaster assistance,” said Senator Lankford. “I’ve consistently heard from disaster victims about how difficult and disjointed the grant application process was in an already burdensome situation. Our bill creates one application on to use across federal agencies to ensure disaster victims can easily apply for assistance while they continue to clean up. This is a government customer service issue we can solve to make it easier for Americans to access the help they need. ”

After a disaster, there are various types of federal disaster assistance that may become available to disaster survivors. For example, FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program can provide financial or direct assistance for housing and SBA’s Real Property Disaster Loans and Personal Property Loans are available to eligible homeowners and renters who have incurred uninsured or underinsured damage to their home or personal property located in a declared disaster area. However, a recent analysis found that more than 50 percent of the questions on the application forms for both of these programs are duplicative. These burdensome applications can overwhelm some survivors, causing many to simply give up trying to access desperately needed assistance and pushing survivors beyond their breaking point.

The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to require FEMA to establish a universal disaster application across federal agencies for disaster survivors and victims who are seeking federal recovery aid. The bill would allow FEMA to share information on disaster survivors with other federal agencies to simplify recovery efforts and reduce the burden on survivors after a disaster. The legislation would make FEMA the lead agency in implementing the universal disaster assistance application for disaster victims. Finally, the bill requires all information sharing practices to meet federal data security standards.

Below are statements in support of senators’ bipartisan legislation:

“BPC Action thanks Sens. Gary Peters and James Lankford for their bipartisan efforts to streamline the application processes for those seeking access to federal disaster recovery assistance,” said Michelle Stockwell, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center Action. “The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act is a needed step toward establishing a federal disaster recovery process that is quicker and more responsive to the needs of citizens in their hour of greatest need. BPC Action looks forward to working with Congress to enact this legislation.”

“This legislation is an important step toward advancing forward-looking, whole-of-government approaches needed to help communities confront the climate crisis,” said Natalie Snider, Associate Vice President of Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We thank Sens. Peters and Lankford for their leadership and foresight, and we look forward to continuing to work with them and the rest of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to advance similar solutions in the future.”

“Across the country, SBP works tirelessly to reduce the time between disaster and recovery for survivors and communities. The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act will streamline federal assistance and drastically reduce the burden of application for survivors in need,” said Reese May, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at SBP, a nonprofit that works to rebuild homes following disasters.  “America’s framework for disaster recovery is confusing and frustrating and it prevents many survivors from receiving they help they need – or even requesting the assistance at all. We applaud Senators Peters and Lankford for bringing forth this long overdue legislation.” 

“The National Emergency Management Association enthusiastically endorses the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act of 2022 which will create a universal application for disaster survivors to apply for assistance,” said Erica Bornemann, President of the National Emergency Management Association. “Such an effort allows for seamless interagency data sharing to significantly increase efficiency, communication and coordination, and substantially decrease lengthy wait times for disbursement of desperately needed assistance to survivors. The universal application process will vastly improve oversight while simultaneously create a more equitable, less burdensome process for survivors already experiencing the most difficult and tragic moments in their lives. This is a long awaited and entirely welcome improvement to disaster public assistance.”

The International Association of Emergency Managers strongly supports the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act of 2022,” said Brad Gilbert, Chair of the International Association of Emergency Managers Government Affairs Committee. “The opportunity to create a universal application for disaster survivors to apply for assistance is overdue and will provide quicker, more equitable and efficient assistance to those affected by disasters. It will lessen the burden on the disaster victims as well as the local jurisdictions who assist them.  The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act will result in better oversight of assistance and help the disasters survivors receive the help they need to rebuild their lives in a timelier manner.”