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Objective 1.2 - Remove Barriers to FEMA Programs Through a “People First” Approach

FEMA exists to help people before, during, and after their worst days. To do this effectively, the agency’s policies and programs must be guided by the needs of the people it serves. FEMA must never lose sight of the people or communities
for whom programs are intended.

Deliberately shaping FEMA’s work to meet the needs of those individuals and communities must be a top priority. This people first approach builds on the 2018-2022 FEMA Strategic Plan, and by making programs simpler, more accessible, and more user-friendly, benefits everyone.

A community’s history, culture, racial composition, and economic status influence its ability to access federal services. Operating through a people first approach requires that FEMA resources can be accessed and leveraged by underserved communities in ways that meet their needs.

Some communities lack emergency managers, staff, or strategic partners to help navigate federal programs.

For example, some individuals and communities may have difficulty understanding FEMA’s programs or participating in training and planning opportunities due to language accessibility, literacy, technical expertise, or disability challenges. Removing barriers to access starts with understanding and addressing the specific needs of communities.

This understanding comes from working directly and consistently with underserved communities to learn about their priorities, needs, and barriers.

Equity in Action

Following Executive Order 13985 FEMA evaluated the equity of its programs and implemented changes to ensure assistance is accessible to people and communities served, including:

  • Accepting more forms of documentation to prove ownership and occupancy for homeowners and renters, reducing the administrative burden on low-income and rural applicants.
  • Prioritizing efforts for FEMA caseworkers to contact applicants deemed ineligible due to occupancy or ownership verification, so they can help them navigate the application process.
  • Changing how we calculate the threshold for property losses to qualify for Direct Housing assistance.

FEMA must proactively and continuously engage state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, local community leaders, and other community representatives to gain insight into how FEMA programs can better serve them. This level of stakeholder engagement, combined with technical assistance, can enhance a community’sparticipation in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities.

But engagement is not enough. FEMA decisions about policy and program implementation must be routinely informed by how they will impact underserved communities, and contributing to a rich culture of continuous improvement and people-centered, culturally appropriate service. The success of the FEMA Integration Teams (FIT) — FEMA staff embedded with state and local partners — has demonstrated that by working alongside partners, the agency can build partner capacity while also enhancing FEMA’s understanding of how to better tailor programs to meet partner needs.

To implement a people first approach, FEMA and our partners must have the capabilities and tools to advance equity in the agency’s work. In order to better serve people, every FEMA employee must be respectful, compassionate, and knowledgeable about the realities and experiences of underserved communities.
Furthermore, the pursuit of equity is a responsibility FEMA shares with partners.

Three stacks of blocks that get progressively tallerFEMA must both learn from partners who are pioneering equity-based solutions and ensure that its partners are implementing the agency’s programs equitably.

Equity in Action

The Center for Domestic Preparedness is partnering with the health care coalition in the Caribbean to address specific gaps and high-risk areas within the health care sector. This initiative allows continued growth and partnership to bring Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands students to the campus for resident training opportunities.