Any person eligible to receive disaster aid or other services from FEMA is entitled to those benefits without discrimination. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of their race, color, or national origin in programs that receive Federal financial assistance. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 affords comparable guarantees to individuals with disabilities, and adds protections against bias in programs conducted by the government itself. Section 508 of this law deals specifically with access to computers and information technology. Section 308 of the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Management and Disaster Assistance Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, age, or economic status in all disaster assistance programs.
The Civil Rights Program section of the Office of Equal Rights provides the following services:
Technical Assistance - The office offers policy guidance to the Agency in meeting Civil Rights mandates. In disaster operations, staff works closely with community organizations to resolve tensions and eliminate potential complaints. The office also provides assistance to the Agency and the national emergency management community in the effort to make publications, programs, and facilities accessible to people with disabilities.
Complaints Resolution - Applicants for or recipients of FEMA federal funds, services or benefits who believe they have been discriminated against may contact the Office of Equal Rights (OER) to obtain complaint processing assistance. Generally applicants are described as the general public or disaster survivors (i.e. persons who have applied for individual disaster assistance) and contractors or sub-grantees (i.e. person, company or state/local entity that has applied to be awarded or has been awarded FEMA federal funds.) Furthermore, person or persons who represent the ‘general public, disaster survivors, contractors or sub-grantees’ can also obtain complaint processing assistance from OER.
The matter will be looked into informally by an Equal Rights Specialist. If the issue cannot be resolved informally, a formal written complaint may be filed with OER. This office is responsible for processing complaints, issuing acknowledgements and acceptance/dismissals; conducting investigations and compliance reviews; and issuing final decisions.
Your Civil Rights and Disaster Assistance
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (Stafford Act) is the law that authorizes Federal assistance when the President declares a State to be a disaster area. Section 308 of the Stafford Act protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of their race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, or economic status in all disaster assistance programs. Section 309 of the Stafford Act applies these nondiscrimination provisions to all private relief organizations participating in the response and recovery effort.
Your Civil Rights in Grants/Contracting
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. This includes non-discrimination in awarding grants, contracts and other federal financial assistance, as well as non-discrimination by recipients (including sub-grantees) of federal grants, contracts and other federal assistance. Also, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a Federal law that protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in programs funded or conducted by the Federal government.
Forms of Discrimination that are Prohibited by Civil Rights Laws
There are many forms of illegal discrimination that can limit the opportunity of people to gain equal access to services, benefits and programs. Among other things, in operating a FEMA-assisted program, a recipient (state or local government or agency that receives Federal disaster funds from FEMA) cannot, on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, age, or economic status, either directly or through contractual means:
- Deny access to program services, aids, or benefits;
- Provide a different service, aid or benefits, or provide them in a manner different than they are provided to others; or,
- Segregate or separately treat individuals in any matter related to the receipt of any service, aid or benefit.
These prohibitions also apply to FEMA itself in its operation of Federally conducted programs.
How to file a discrimination complaint.
Each federal agency that provides federal financial assistance is responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination in the use of its funds.
Applicants, contractors or recipients of FEMA federal funds, services or benefits (i.e. disaster assistance, grants, contracts or awards) or representatives of such parties that believe that discrimination has occurred in awarding or receiving such funds, services or benefits may file a complaint. Generally applicants are described as the general public or disaster survivors (i.e. persons who have applied for individual disaster assistance) and contractors or sub-grantees (i.e. person, company or state/local entity that has applied to be awarded or has been awarded FEMA federal funds). A complaint may be initiated by contacting the FEMA Equal Rights office by calling FEMA’s helpline at 1 (800) 621-3362. You may also contact FEMA headquarters’ Office of Equal Rights at (202) 646-3535 or (202) 646-3638 (voicemail).
A complaint must be filed not later than 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended by the responsible official or designee. The responsible agency official at FEMA may from time to time avail him/herself of the flexibility provided by the regulations and extend the time for filing. This is a matter of discretion and decisions are made on a case by case basis.
The complaint must be in writing and include:
- Your name, address, and telephone number. Your complaint must include a basis. Your complaint must be signed. If you are filing on behalf of another person, include your name address, telephone number, and your relationship to that person (e.g., friend, attorney, parent, etc.)
- The name and address of the agency, institution, or department you believe discriminated against you. This may include a recipient of FEMA funds such as a state or local government entity.
- How, why, and when you believe you or the party you represent were discriminated against. Include as much background information about the alleged acts of discrimination. Include names of individuals whom you allege discriminated against you, if you know them.
- You may mail your written complaint to the Office of Equal Rights at:
FEMA-Office of Equal Rights
ATTN: CIVIL RIGHTS TITLE VI PROGRAM
300 D St, SW, 8th floor
Washington, D.C. 20472-3505
You may also fax your written complaint to (202) 646-4320, ATTN: CIVIL RIGHTS TITLE VI PROGRAM
In some cases, you may file a case in the nearest Federal District Court. This option is also available to applicants who have their complaint investigated by FEMA and are not satisfied with the final decision.
What will FEMA do with my complaint?
Once a complaint is filed, the Office of Equal Rights will assign a case number to the complaint. The case number and the complainant’s name will be used to track the complaint through the complaint process. The case will be reviewed to determine whether FEMA has jurisdiction to investigate the allegations. If the complaint is accepted, FEMA will investigate the allegations. If the investigation determines that the allegations are founded, negotiation is engaged to resolve the allegations and correct the violations. If this is unsuccessful, enforcement proceedings may be initiated.