June 7, 2021

Why Does Disaster Aid Often Favor White People?

By Christopher Flavelle

2,049 words

The federal government often gives less help to Black disaster survivors than their white neighbors. That’s a challenge for President Biden, who has vowed to fight both inequality and climate change.

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Refreshed on June 22, 2021 at 10:51:20 am

Headlines and popularity

  1. Why Does Disaster Aid Often Favor White People?
  2. As Warming Fuels Disasters, Relief Often Favors White People

Revisions

June 22, 2021 at 10:51 am CHANGED
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  Their situations are different in another respect: Mr. Vaussine is white. Charlotte and Norman Biagas are Black.
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  A growing body of research shows that FEMA, the government agency responsible for helping Americans recover from disasters, often helps white disaster victims more than people of color, even when the amount of damage is the same. Not only do individual white Americans often receive more aid from FEMA; so do the communities in which they live, according to several recent studies based on federal data.
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- Leaders at FEMA are wrestling with the complicated question of why these disparities exist — and what to do about them. The problem seems to stem from complex systemic factors, like a real estate market that often places higher values on properties in communities with many white residents, or the difficulty of navigating the federal bureaucracy, which tends to favors people and communities that have more resources from the beginning.
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+ Leaders at FEMA are wrestling with the complicated question of why these disparities exist — and what to do about them. The problem seems to stem from complex systemic factors, like a real estate market that often places higher values on properties in communities with many white residents, or the difficulty of navigating the federal bureaucracy, which tends to favor people and communities that have more resources from the beginning.
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  The impact from this disparity is long-lasting. White people in counties with significant disaster damage that received FEMA help saw their personal wealth jump years later while Black residents lost wealth, research published in 2018 shows.
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  The imbalance comes as climate change fuels more frequent and more destructive storms, wildfires and other disasters, and marginalized communities tend to be both the most exposed to damage and least able to recover financially.
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  Racial disparities also exist in FEMA’s program that purchases and then demolishes damaged homes. Those buyouts are meant to help individual homeowners leave a dangerous location, and reduce future federal costs by avoiding paying for more damage in that spot.
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  But buyouts can leave people worse off, especially lower-income families who may not have enough money to purchase a home in a safer location. Buyouts can also hurt a community by hollowing it out, making it less attractive while also shrinking the tax base.
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- In a paper published last year, James R. Elliott a sociology professor at Rice University, looked at FEMA buyouts around the country from 1990 to 2015. Dr. Elliott and his co-authors found that FEMA “seems to be disproportionately demolishing homes in communities of color,” he said.
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+ In a paper published last year, James R. Elliott, a sociology professor at Rice University, looked at FEMA buyouts around the country from 1990 to 2015. Dr. Elliott and his co-authors found that FEMA “seems to be disproportionately demolishing homes in communities of color,” he said.
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  The various FEMA programs appear to be making racial inequality worse, sometimes in surprising ways.
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  Research published in 2018 found that, for white Americans, living in a county hit by a large disaster was a financial boon. Those white residents didn’t just see their wealth grow — it grew five times as much, on average, as the wealth of white residents in counties without major disasters, according to the research by Dr. Elliott and Junia Howell, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Wealth in these cases largely referred to changes in home values.

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Headlines

  • Why Does Disaster Aid Often Favor White People?
  • As Warming Fuels Disasters, Relief Often Favors White People

Tags

  • Black People
  • Disasters and Emergencies
  • Discrimination
  • Federal Aid (US)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Finances
  • Global Warming
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
  • Income Inequality
  • Lake Charles (La)
  • Louisiana
  • Minorities
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Real Estate and Housing (Residential)
  • Research
  • United States
  • Whites