Racial disparities still plague relief efforts for Puerto Rico following hurricane disaster, GAO report says

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

WASHINGTON – FEMA officials said they would not “sweep anything under the rug” and would address racist inequalities in disaster aid, but a watchdog report released this week says that is not happening.

FEMA has underfunded Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, and more than 20 years ago, FEMA underwrote a project at the George Washington University that created a process for minority businesses to qualify for disaster aid.

According to the GAO report, FEMA extended the grant program in 2008 and it remains in effect today. The report states:

“Only nine months after the hurricane began, 59% of 9,100 business owners receiving disaster loans who were not White in the UI Partnersage Project (IPP) program had received some type of subsidy compared to 64% of the 3,000 beneficiaries whose households were White,” the report states.

It cites other GAO reports on race and disaster aid, claiming that FEMA’s underfunded relief efforts have left minority business owners behind. “Most of these businesses are small businesses,” the report states. “Moreover, of the Black‐owned businesses that did not receive disaster loans after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, 43% reported they lacked any type of road repair business relationship with FEMA. Additionally, 20% of Black‐owned businesses reported they did not have any FEMA marketing materials – such as pamphlets, fliers, and promotional material – that discussed the types of services FEMA would offer after the hurricane.”

FEMA acknowledged racial disparities this week after it released a notice for public comment that urged feedback on its plan to provide a total of $36.5 billion to Puerto Rico. The agency wants to provide aid to Puerto Rico to repair and rebuild the island and improve its infrastructure. The disaster aid is part of an overall agreement for long-term federal aid to the island, which was ravaged by an earthquake and hurricane last year.

White, affluent homeowners got low or no payments from FEMA because of their wealth, while low-income renters received far higher payments.

The proposal comes a month after GAO found that Puerto Rico was ineligible for nearly $30 billion in federal funding under a program designed to help hurricane recovery efforts, suggesting that unequal treatment had occurred.

Leave a Comment