236,000+ Louisiana households are awaiting FEMA aid decisions as deadline looms
NEW ORLEANS — The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) will stop accepting appeals and providing financial assistance for Hurricane Ida on Feb. 28, 2023, despite the fact that, according to FEMA’s own records, there is still no decision on over 236,000 Louisianan households' applications for assistance.
FEMA has not issued a press release or any public notification of the looming deadline.
In response, over 60 voluntary, faith-based, community, philanthropic and national advocacy organizations have issued letters to President Biden, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, the Louisiana Congressional Delegation and Governor John Bel Edwards, requesting an extension of the deadline to allow disaster-affected households time to submit appeals to FEMA.
“Hurricane Ida was the fifth costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and Louisianans continue to struggle to recover,” said Laura Tuggle, Executive Director of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. “As nonprofits, we are on the ground, working directly with people in affected communities. We are partners that stand behind FEMA’s equity goals and are uniquely positioned to help identify the invisible roadblocks that Louisianans are experiencing as they try to access assistance. Due to our intimate knowledge of the barriers to recovery, we know nothing will go further to producing equitable outcomes among the people of our state than an extension of the IHP period of assistance and appeals deadline.”
Louisianans have faced significant barriers to applying for assistance since Hurricane Ida for a variety of reasons, including:
- In 2021, Louisiana’s poverty rate was the highest in the nation at 19.65%.
- The remote, rural areas that Hurricane Ida hit have low educational attainment levels.
- FEMA relies heavily on written correspondence, which directly impacts Louisianans’ ability to access disaster assistance in a state with a literacy rate of 84% in 2023.
- Providing the necessary FEMA documentation requires adults to be technology-proficient in areas without broadband access, which prevents rural residents, older adults, people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, low-income households and others - from acting in their own best interest.
- Survivors must fax information to National Processing Service Centers or upload it into FEMA’s antiquated NEMIS system, which makes documents illegible due to excessive pixelization. This triggers repeated requests for documents that survivors think they have submitted (which were legible on their end).
- Homeownership documentation was destroyed in the storm or is lacking due to heirship property issues which take time and legal assistance to resolve.
- There is a severe lack of contractors to provide the estimates that are required for homeowners to submit appeals.
- The COVID-19 pandemic prevented FEMA inspectors from entering people's homes, resulting in inaccurate damage assessments and the need for a second inspection.
- The closure of Disaster Recovery Centers in Louisiana on February 25, 2022, made it more difficult for survivors to get the help they needed when applying for assistance.
- Many homeowners still have unresolved insurance claims and cannot submit settlement documentation and declaration pages to receive FEMA awards.
- The Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program recently began processing applications. To be eligible, applicants must have received either $8,000 in home repair funds or $3,500 in personal property assistance from FEMA.
Because FEMA has not provided the public with formal written notice of the deadline through the media, Louisianans are not ready for the cessation of IHP financial assistance or the loss of their ability to appeal previous FEMA decisions denying them assistance. Without a deadline extension, Hurricane Ida survivors will experience growing levels of financial instability, making Louisiana and its residents even more vulnerable to future storms.
By comparison, on Jan. 24, 2023, FEMA published a press release identifying the March 10, 2023, deadline for Hurricane Ida survivors in Pennsylvania.
A 90-day extension beyond the Feb. 28, 2023 deadline would allow survivors time to obtain FEMA resources, which are required to be eligible for the Restore Louisiana Program. An inability to appeal FEMA decisions not only prevents access to FEMA assistance but will also bar access to the state’s housing recovery program.
We are grateful the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) shares our common desire to change negative recovery outcomes that disproportionately affect underserved communities. We are aware that GOHSEP requested the exact same extension of FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) after Hurricane Laura, and were met with a denial of their request. We stand with our state officials in support of their equity goals and we seek a different outcome for Ida’s request - one that extends the deadline by at least 90 days. The enormous number of people in Louisiana whose needs are still unmet must be everyone’s greatest priority.
“This is a life or death situation for Louisiana’s people,” added Tuggle. “FEMA has an opportunity to make good on its equity goals by extending the February 28 deadline and providing a notification period before the deadline to account for the unique challenges of our state’s Hurricane Ida survivors.”
See the full list of partner signatories here.