May 17, 2024 - Politics

A San Diego lawmaker calls for more streamlined federal disaster aid after January floods

Illustration of a roll of money in a life preserver.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As FEMA overhauls its emergency aid program, U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-California) is calling on federal agencies to better coordinate their response to natural disasters like the historic January floods.

Why it matters: Federal assistance programs help residents and business owners recover, but they are challenging to navigate and the money can be inadequate and slow to arrive.

State of play: San Diego County flood victims received millions in grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses and other resources.

  • But many residents were unsure about the aid they qualify for or were denied due to unintentional mistakes on forms or insufficient documentation. They also faced delays in communicating with different agencies.

Driving the news: Jacobs introduced a bill Friday directing the FEMA administrator and HUD secretary to consolidate recovery efforts that are currently spread across more than 30 federal entities.

Between the lines: The federal government's "outdated" system involving agencies with conflicting rules and regulations needs to be overhauled, according to Monica Montgomery Steppe, the county supervisor who represents the communities hit hardest by the storms.

  • Community input and more flexibility, discretion and understanding based on local circumstances and operational rules are keys to those changes, Montgomery Steppe says.
  • Streamlining the systems around disaster recovery — and having staff dedicated to families, like case workers — would also help, she said.

Flashback: FEMA in January started reforming its individual assistance program for the first time in 20 years based on frustrations from victims around the country.

  • The agency is offering more flexible forms of assistance aimed at getting money to people faster, including removing some documentation requirements and giving people cash up front for housing that they can choose, the Washington Post reported.
  • Those changes went into effect at the end of March, so they didn't apply to San Diegans.

What we're watching: Locally, the county stepped in to fill gaps in federal aid by spending about $30 million on a hotel voucher program and food for those who were displaced by the floods.

  • The program has already been extended twice, and supervisors have cautioned against further extensions, per the San Diego Union Tribune.
  • More than 500 households are still living in hotels, and that program "will be done" on June 21, according to Montgomery Steppe.

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