Legislation Would Create Universal Application for Disaster Survivors
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Rand Paul (R-KY), and James Lankford (R-OK) to simplify the application process for federal disaster recovery assistance 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 advanced by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair and Paul serves as Ranking Member. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
“Disaster survivors should have a straightforward process to access the federal assistance they need to rebuild their lives after extreme weather events,” said Chairman Peters. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will make sure that people in Michigan and across the country only need to fill in one universal application to get federal help to recover from natural disasters.”
“Over the past few years, Kentucky has endured several deadly tornados and flash floods, leaving significant damage and displacing thousands throughout the Commonwealth,” said Ranking Member Paul. “Many of those impacted have expressed challenges in receiving quick assistance and updates from government agencies. As part of my commitment to always put Kentuckians first, I’m proud to cosponsor the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act, which will reduce the burden on disaster survivors by ensuring the process of receiving aid is simple and speedy. I look forward to working with a bipartisan coalition to get this important legislation passed expeditiously.”
“Our families, nonprofits, and churches are the first boots on the ground in a disaster situation, but the federal government does have a unique role in providing timely disaster assistance to families and businesses,” said Senator Lankford. “I’ve consistently heard from Oklahoma disaster victims about how difficult and disjointed the process was when they were trying to put their life back together. That’s just bad customer service. Our proposal creates one online application portal to use across federal agencies to ensure disaster victims can easily apply for assistance on their phone or tablet while they clean up.”
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 other needs, and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Real Property Disaster Loans and Personal Property Loans are available to eligible homeowners and renters who have incurred damage to their home or personal property. 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 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. Finally, the bill requires all information sharing practices to meet federal data security standards.