WASHINGTON – Sen.
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
to promptly implement recommendations from a recent Government Accountability
Office (GAO) report that could improve customer service for Americans who
recently experienced a natural disaster.
Americans struggle to navigate FEMA’s processes for seeking assistance,
particularly as they face serious and potentially life-altering situations.
I am happy to do all I can to help my constituents, the process should not be
so unmanageable and burdensome that it cannot be easily understood and
completed successfully by most survivors,” Grassley
is calling on FEMA’s new leadership to promptly implement GAO’s recommendations
streamline processes and clear up ambiguities and help survivors get assistance
they are eligible to receive.
April 28, 2021
Honorable Deanne Criswell
Emergency Management Agency
is no stranger to natural disasters and receiving federal disaster
declarations. We are very thankful for
the assistance that FEMA provides to the state, communities, and individuals
after these destructive events. However,
many of the FEMA processes are cumbersome and confusing to those who are trying
to recover from the disaster, especially the Individual Assistance
a disaster, survivors are vulnerable and devastated from the catastrophic
event. Many are experiencing
life-altering situations that cause havoc both emotionally, socially, and
economically. While going through this
traumatic time, survivors find the complicated, bureaucratic Individual
Assistance Program process to be very onerous, adding to the stress of
recovery. In fact, many applicants
withdraw from the process because it is overwhelming or too frustrating to deal
with government speak. This process is
further exacerbated by ever changing FEMA field staff that may or may not have
the training and understanding of the FEMA process to successfully explain and
help the survivors through the program.
offices try to provide a helping hand throughout the FEMA process to these
constituents, but not all survivors reach out to a congressional office to
understand and get assistance through this government process. While I am happy to do all I can to help my
constituents, the process should not be so unmanageable and burdensome that it
cannot be easily understood and completed successfully by most survivors.
applaud FEMA for establishing a strategic goal in its 2018-2022 Strategic Plan
to reduce the complexity of FEMA and to streamline the disaster survivor
experiences in dealing with the agency.
In September 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a
report on Disaster Assistance: Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen FEMA’s
Individuals and Households Program. This
report found that “survivors faced numerous challenges obtaining aid and
understanding” of the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), including some
of the following:
- FEMA requires that certain survivors first be denied a
Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan before receiving certain
types of IHP assistance.
- Opportunities also exist to improve survivors’
understanding of FEMA’s eligibility and award determinations for the IHP,
for example, that an ineligible determination is not always final, but may
mean FEMA needs more information to decide the award.
- FEMA has faced challenges managing its call center and
field staff…. FEMA staff at disaster recovery centers (DRC) lacked some
skills and capabilities needed to support survivors, such as knowledge to
provide accurate guidance about required documents.
“GAO found that FEMA did not complete activities that are critical to the
success of a process improvement effort…. Specifically, the agency did not
fully assess customer and stakeholder needs and performance gaps in the
program, or set improvement goals and priorities for the redesign.”
agree with GAO that as FEMA continues to implement multiple efforts to improve
assistance to survivors, FEMA should complete “these process improvement activities,”
enabling FEMA to be able “to further refine the redesigned Individual
Assistance Program, and more effectively direct and focus its implementation
made fourteen recommendations, and the Department of Homeland Security
concurred, “to address challenges faced by survivors, GAO recommends improving
the communication of the SBA loan requirement, identifying ways to simplify the
application process, improve the IHP award determination letters, and provide
more information to survivors about their award.” The report further recommends FEMA address
the challenges implementing the Individual Assistance Program by “improving the
communication of guidance changes, ensure employee engagement to raise morale,
and improve training among call center staff.”
Additional recommendations include improving the information provided to
local recovery partners and “implementing best practices for information
sharing and coordination on the delivery of temporary transportable housing.”
final recommendations include FEMA’s efforts to assess and improve the
Individual Assistance Program. These
recommendations include “corrections to the methodology used to survey
survivors; following key process improvement activities – including engaging
stakeholders assessing performance gaps, and prioritization of process
improvement – during program redesign activities; and establishing time frames
for strategic planning and implementation of program improvement efforts.
FEMA to promptly and fully implement these recommendations to help survivors of
devastating disasters in Iowa and across the country receive the assistance
they are eligible for in a more understandable and less cumbersome way. As always, I stand ready to assist Iowans in
our ongoing disaster recovery efforts.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office for assistance if
needed as you improve the Individual Assistance Program process.