Senate Passes Paul, Peters, and Lankford Bipartisan Bill to Simplify Application Process for Federal Disaster Assistance

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate passed bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and James Lankford (R-OK) to simplify the application process for federal disaster recovery assistance. The legislation would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a universal application across federal agencies for those seeking federal assistance to recover from natural disasters such as severe storms, floods, wildfires, and more. Currently, individuals 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 now moves to the House of Representatives.

“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.”

“People in Michigan and across the nation whose lives have been upended by natural disasters should have a straightforward process to access federal assistance,” said Chairman Peters. “By creating one universal application to get federal help to recover from natural disasters, this bipartisan legislation will reduce the burden on disaster survivors who seeking help to rebuild their lives.”

“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 streamline 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.

See below for statements of support for the senators’ legislation:

“Local officials and emergency responders are often first on the scene following a disaster, coordinating clean-up, recovery and rebuilding efforts to return our residents lives back to normal,” said Matthew Chase, Executive Director of the National Association of Counties. “Once federal assistance becomes available, county residents often find themselves having to complete multiple complex applications that require similar information. This process is arduous, redundant and confusing for individuals during one of the most stressful times of their lives. The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act would create a universal disaster application for survivors to ensure they are able to access vital funding more efficiently. Counties thank Senators Peters, Paul and Lankford for introducing this critical legislation to support local governments and our residents.”

“The National League of Cities would like to thank Senators Peters, Paul and Lankford for their leadership and dedication to helping the residents of our cities, towns, and villages access critical federal assistance after a disaster,” said Yucel Ors, Legislative Director of the National League of Cities. “We applaud this bipartisan collaboration in sponsoring The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act, which would establish a universal disaster application for individuals, households, and businesses seeking access to federal disaster recovery assistance.”

“The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act of 2023 is an urgently necessary step to help reduce the burden on disaster survivors as they apply for assistance. The National Emergency Management Association fully endorses the creation of a universal application for disaster aid. This initiative is a way for FEMA and other federal agencies to stay survivor-centric, and I applaud this common-sense and humane improvement,” said Patrick C. Sheehan, President of the National Emergency Management Association. “By allowing seamless interagency data sharing to increase efficiency, communication, and coordination, wait times for disbursement of desperately needed assistance to survivors should be reduced significantly. The universal application process allows for improved oversight, while simultaneously creating a more equitable, less burdensome process. For survivors already experiencing the most difficult and tragic moments in their lives, this is an entirely welcome improvement to disaster individual assistance.”

“The International Association of Emergency Managers strongly supports the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act. 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,” said Brad Gilbert, Chair of the International Association of Emergency Managers. “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 disaster survivors receive the help they need to rebuild their lives in a timelier manner.”

“Applying for federal disaster assistance is time-consuming, overly complex, and burdensome for many – especially survivors of storms trying to secure relief from multiple agencies,” said Melissa Roberts, President and Executive Director of the American Flood Coalition Action. “American Flood Coalition Action applauds Chairman Gary Peters, Ranking Member Rand Paul and Senator James Lankford for their bipartisan leadership to establish a universal disaster assistance application for federal programs. This commonsense solution will simplify access to resources and help get people and families back on their feet faster in the wake of major floods.”

“The Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) applauds Senators Peters, Paul and Lankford for introducing the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act to help speed up and better clarify available federal assistance programs to those impacted by a disaster,” said Elizabeth Duffy, Washington Liasison for the Association of State Floodplain Managers. “Flood survivors throughout the country need timely disaster assistance as well as a system that is comprehensive and easy to navigate as they attempt to get their lives back to normal. This legislation is a step in the right direction.”

“Team Rubicon has deployed to over 1100 disasters to help those impacted by natural disasters and through long-term recovery,” said Art DelaCruz, Chief Executive Officer of Team Rubicon. “We have seen firsthand how complexity and multiple agency applications during extremely stressful times inhibits aid reaching those impacted. A single application for those impacted by disasters will limit the duplication of effort and enable greater equity in the process. We thank Senators Peters, Paul and Lankford for leading this work.”

“Our nation’s disaster recovery system is complex and multifaceted, including a slate of federal programs, governed by a national disaster recovery framework, which collectively attempt to meet the needs of individuals and communities affected by disasters,” said Michele Stockwell, Executive Director of BPC Action. “BPC Action applauds Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Rand Paul (R-KY) and James Lankford (R-OK) for their bipartisan efforts on the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act to streamline the application processes for those seeking access to federal disaster recovery assistance. This legislation is an essential step toward a federal disaster response system that is quicker and more responsive to those in their hour of greatest need.”

“For years, the BuildStrong Coalition has called on Congress to reduce the administrative burdens associated with disaster grant programs and spending,” said Natalie Enclade, Executive Director of the Build Strong Coalition. “We applaud Senators Peters, Paul and Lankford for leading the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act, which will create a unified application for disaster assistance and ultimately make it easier for survivors and communities to access the help they need.”

“Across the country, SBP works tirelessly to reduce the time between disaster and recovery for survivors and communities,” said Reese May, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of SBP. “The Disaster Assistance Simplification Act will streamline federal assistance and drastically reduce the burden of application for survivors in need. 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, Paul and Lankford for bringing forth this long overdue legislation.”

“The lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors are often hardest hit by disasters, and they continue to face the steepest, longest path to a complete and equitable recovery. For too long, a daunting application and appeals process has prevented low-income disaster survivors from accessing the critical assistance they need to get back on their feet,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The creation of a universal application for disaster assistance, such as the one proposed in the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act, is an important first step in dismantling barriers created by the federal government and fixing our nation’s broken disaster housing recovery system.”

“Frontline communities feel the pain of natural disasters first and worst and are often last to receive help in their wake. How the federal government shows up for communities in the wake of wildfires, hurricanes, floods, severe storms and other disasters, should not create or perpetuate environmental injustices or inequities,” said Jessie Ritter, Associate Vice President for Water and Coasts at the National Wildlife Federation. “This important legislation will start to address this enduring problem and help ensure the federal approach to disaster-response does not leave anyone behind.”

“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 VP of Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We thank Senators Peters, Paul 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.”