IOWA CITY — Researchers at an Iowa City-based think tank says some communities face bigger challenges than others when it come to protecting themselves from flooding.
David Osterberg of the Iowa Policy Project says low-income people often live in the areas most impacted by flooding. He says funds available to help isn’t always available right when needed. “If you are a low-income person you can’t just say ‘Okay I’ll use some of my savings until the FEMA money comes.’ You don’t have any savings,” Osterberg says.
He says that creates a flood inequity as people try to recover. “While this may not be FEMA’s fault — it’s their job to make sure they just don’t give away money willy-nilley — having so many people who just are at the edge and then experience a disaster — it makes it so hard. They are not treated like somebody who would be middle class,” Osterberg says.
Osterbeg says the uncertainty of when relief is coming is a big issue. “Some floods FEMA is right there. Sometimes it takes a long time,” Osterberg says. University of Iowa graduate student Joe Wilensky wrote the report.”Earlier research primarily focused in on peoples’ income levels and their wealth levels, sort of their poverty levels of individuals,” he says. “More recent research is showing that there are similar sort of negative outcomes associated with a sort of broader range of individuals. So, in the paper itself it list 13 different categories.”
The report has several recommendations, including a “rebalance” mitigation efforts with an emphasis on community impact and vulnerability rather than up-front economic loss. It says the economic loss approach puts higher-value properties ahead of those properties of people less able to cope on their own.
It also suggests putting more flexibility in FEMA guidelines to ease community burdens and allow for a creative use of funds. Better directing of Community Development Block Grant funds to the best place for mitigation efforts — not necessarily within the damage area — but outside if needed. And keeping state funds flowing pending the arrival federal aid. State funds might be delayed after a federal disaster is declared and then the state stops processing and paying disaster claims.