June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane and wildfire seasons. Many wait with baited teeth, wondering if they will be able to survive another storm when they have not recovered from previous weather emergencies. This is when anxiety kicks in and post-traumatic stress disorder can set in. This is the year when people vow to prepare but have limited resources.
Although the onset of wildfires and hurricane season have always been alarming, the climate crisis has brought new concern. The Earth is warming to dangerous degrees due to climate change. As the climate warms, we see stronger winds, storm surges and record rainfalls. We also experience more severe hurricanes and weather events, as well as more costly and more destructive ones. Natural disasters will increase as climate change intensifies, leaving many people in a state where they are suspended animation.
The people most affected by the climate crisis are often the ones least responsible for it. Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities have all been affected by the climate crisis. 50 percent higher vulnerabilityClimate events are often a threat to hurricanes. This is not a possibility. Our communities are segregated into the most fragile areas by racist housing policies and zoning practices. This makes communities with color more vulnerable to disasters and the economic collapse.
We must demand more from our elected representatives in the wake of the climate crisis’s escalating storms. They shouldn’t be allowed to divert tax dollars or feed a disaster economy. Officials must support mutual aid funds, grassroots organizers, and those who help neighbors and friends to survive, heal, rebuild, and do so with dignity and hope.
Disaster Relief Failed Marginalized Communities
Louisianaans have never been able to rely on disaster funds to reach them. Louisians are well aware that mutual aid is more effective than bureaucratic organizations. In fact, mutual help has been the lifeline for Louisianians in times of crisis.
However, FEMA is the federal agency that provides disaster relief for natural disasters. FEMA has consistently failed its constituents, especially those who are marginalized, to address their material needs, from Hurricane Katrina 2005 to Hurricane Ida 2021. FEMA rarely helps survivors to navigate insurance claims and pays real dollars for rebuilding. It is not always willing to provide support for survivors with insurance, despite numerous requests. insurance companies going bankrupt and delayingPolicyholders may be withheld payments or withheld payments. FEMA has a history that involves withholding payments from policyholders and distributing hundreds of million of dollars to consultants and companies out-of state.
Louisians have learned from experience that greater aid does not necessarily mean you will get better assistance. In many cases, the opposite is true. FEMA’s Stafford Act is too rigid to give communities the help they need. FEMA did not allow families to receive funds until last year without clear title to their homes.
FEMA also awarded Black applicants 5 to 10 percent lower amounts than white applicants. FEMA was also discovered to exist between 1990 and 2015. disproportionately demolish homes in communities of color. Between 1999-2013, Black and Latino residents of disaster-stricken communities were lost $27,000 and $29,000The average white resident gained $126,000 per year after the disaster. Another example of systemic racism, climate disasters are often caused by the least responsible people.
We don’t know how severe the storms will be, but we do know that local grassroots groups are the best in helping the community. The best way to provide immediate help after Hurricane Ida was mutual aid. For instance, days after the storm, and well before FEMA showed up, my organization, Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, was on the ground distributing direct cash assistance and aid to help survivors find temporary lodging, pay for child care, and feed their families.
We assisted in the relocation of people to safe havens. We also established a line for communication with vulnerable communities to share knowledge and to ensure that people had food and medical supplies. Our entire work was basically shifted to equitable disaster recovery. Before the crisis, our work had focused on voting issues and COVID-19 testing and support. We also worked on education justice campaigns.
What’s more, we must all appreciate that disasters have specific phases — relief, recovery and rebuilding better. While the media usually covers the immediate aftermath of a storm’s destruction, their cameras don’t always capture the rebuilding and recovery phases. They have often moved on and covered other news. Many people are vulnerable to outside forces that flood their communities after climate disasters without the supervision of the fourth estate. For instance, one key FEMA shortcoming is the agency’s focus on simply aiding and not rebuilding communities impacted by natural disasters. This is something that is often overlooked by media driven by 24-hour news cycles.
Moving beyond the Disaster Economy
There is an entire disaster economy made up of contractors and consultants who profit from the suffering of the marginalized. The disaster economy kicks into full gear during times of crisis, siphoning resources off and leaving many people poorer than they were before. Many citizens are now facing cuts in their resources. These resources are often allocated to inefficient, profit-driven contractors for use on substandard work that is never finished. These experiences are devastating to those who have already lost so many.
Rather than relying on large agencies to implement disaster relief, the federal government could implement a tax credit that puts resources directly in survivors’ hands, much like the child tax credit.
Hurricanes usually hit at the beginning or middle of the month. People are forced to spend crucial dollars on gas and hotels to find safety. This creates a terrible cycle where people must find a way of survival even though their homes are destroyed or their bills are due. People who were already suffering from the collapsed economy during Hurricane Ida stayed in tents on their propertiesInstead of seeking shelter, they decided to leave and seek out safer shelter. FEMA was not clear how much assistance they would receive.
As we face another hurricane season and wildfire season, we demand federal solutions that allow communities to rebuild dignity. Texas Rep. Al Green is exploring ways to ensure disaster community development block grants are available to the local community. These grants are offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and help communities to begin the rebuilding process.
FEMA is not the only solution. Government entities must support innovative solutions that have the flexibility and connection of mutual aid funds. It must also strive to deliver lifesaving assistance more quickly, streamlining existing processes, as well as inventing new ways to help those who are most vulnerable. We know the storms are coming — the question is, are we ready to help people move outside of the eye of the storm?