WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) to strengthen the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster response efforts for communities of color advanced in the Senate today. The legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as the Ranking Member. The Achieving Racial and Ethnic Equity in Disaster Response, Recovery, and Resilience Act would establish the Office of Equal Rights and Community Inclusion at FEMA to increase access to and improve the quality of disaster assistance for communities of color, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the delivery of disaster assistance.
“As the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, disasters and emergencies often disproportionately impact minority communities, and our disaster response efforts typically provide slow or inadequate disaster relief assistance to those same communities,” said Senator Peters. “I’m pleased the committee has advanced my important legislation that will help us address these ongoing racial disparities and make our nation’s efforts to respond to disasters more equal for communities of color in Michigan and across the country.”
Communities of color often face barriers to securing federal aid following an emergency, like the Coronavirus pandemic. Communities of color and other underserved communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, underscoring a long history of disparities in health care access and disaster response. For example, in Michigan, African Americans make up 13.6% of the state’s population, but have represented a staggering 33% of confirmed cases and 40% of deaths from the virus.
Peters’ bill would establish the Office of Equal Rights and Community Inclusion at FEMA. The bill would charge FEMA with entering into agreements with and awarding grants to nonprofits working in communities of color. The new office would be required to regularly consult with advocacy organizations representing communities of color and indigenous human resource providers in communities of color to ensure their voices are being heard. Additionally, the office would develop data-based metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of activities aimed at reducing disparities in the provision of disaster assistance. The bill would require annual public reporting to ensure the office is held accountable for successful implementation of efforts to improve equity in all phases of the disaster—from immediate response to building resilience to future events.
Peters has worked to address the issue of racial disparities in the Coronavirus pandemic response. He introduced legislation to establish an interagency task force charged with identifying and addressing racial disparities and introduced a bill requiring HHS to report demographic data about testing, treatment, and outcomes of the pandemic. He has also pressed FEMA to be more transparent with their efforts to address existing racial and socioeconomic disparities, and called on the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force to release comprehensive data about the racial and ethnic impact of the virus.