On August 9, 2021, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced three pre-disaster resilience funding opportunities to help states and communities prepare for major disasters that are costing lives and livelihoods, and devastating local communities and businesses nationwide.
These programs will allow communities to apply for nearly $5 billion to increase their preparedness in advance of climate-related extreme weather events and other disasters, and improve their ability to recover after these events.
In particular, FEMA is announcing the following:
- $1 billion in funding for its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program for Fiscal Year 2021. This new program, launched in 2020, provides grants to states, local communities, tribes, and territories to proactively reduce their vulnerability to natural hazard events before they occur, and make themselves and the nation more resilient. This year, the Biden Administration is doubling the program’s funding and implementing a number of changes to enhance funding opportunities for tribes and disadvantaged communities, including by changing program selection criteria and providing a larger allocation for tribes;
- $3.46 billion in funding for its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The 59 states, tribes, and territories that received a major disaster declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible to receive 4% of the disaster costs related to their declaration to invest in mitigation projects that will help better prepare and protect communities from natural disasters and the impacts of climate change. The influx of funding will help communities prioritize mitigation needs for a more resilient future, including underserved communities that are often most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; and
- $160 million in funding for its Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) grant program for Fiscal Year 2021 to reduce or eliminate the risks of repetitive flood damage to homes and buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.
These new funding opportunities support the President’s Build Back Better Agenda. This agenda includes historic investments to make America’s dilapidated infrastructure more resilient in the face of increasingly severe floods, wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and other risks.
It also supports the President’s Justice40 Initiative, which set a goal of delivering at least 40% of the overall benefits of Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.
These investments are meant to advance environmental justice and equity, reduce the vulnerability of communities to disasters, promote individual and community safety, strengthen the nation’s ability to adapt to changing conditions, and reduce the burdens these changes place on first responders.
The High Costs of Extreme Weather and Climate-Related Disasters
Climate change is a major driver for the increased frequency, duration, and severity of extreme weather and climate-related disasters. Millions of Americans feel the effects of these extreme events when their roads and schools flood, and hospitals lose power.
Over the past few years, the frequency of extreme weather and climate-related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion has skyrocketed. From 2000 to 2009, these billion-dollar disasters occurred 6 times a year on average.
From 2010 to 2020, that number increased to an average of 13 events per year, causing more than $975 billion in disaster damages over the decade. Last year alone, the United States faced $100 billion in damages to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure due to disasters. Annual deaths and monetary losses from these events have more than doubled.
Chronic underinvestment in American infrastructure has impacted the nation’s resilience. Failure to properly invest in transportation—and especially transit—systems can lead to disrupted service, unsafe travel conditions, severe damage, and increased maintenance and operating costs, deficiencies which disproportionately burden disadvantaged urban, rural, and tribal communities.
Underinvestment in resilient electrical grids and water systems can leave people without power or clean water, create immediate peril, cause substantial economic dislocation, and impede swift recovery from a disaster.
Fortunately, these human and infrastructure costs can be decreased through smart pre-disaster investments. Studies have consistently shown FEMA hazard mitigation investments are cost effective and result in communities that are safer and more resilient to natural hazards, including impacts from climate change.
Many of these investments will also create jobs in renovating buildings and infrastructure. An analysis of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act showed that investments in community resilience generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars spent and an economic return of $2.40 for every $1 invested.
A Whole-of-Government Approach to Resilience and Equity
The Biden Administration is taking steps to ensure that underserved communities will receive access to needed funds from these programs. As program pilots of the Justice40 Initiative, both the BRIC and FMA programs will immediately begin enhancing benefits for disadvantaged communities.
For example, FEMA has refined the BRIC program project selection criteria to send more benefits to those most in need. It will double the number of communities that can receive non-financial direct technical assistance in FY2021, through hands-on support with project development and other needs that help level the playing field for up to 20 disadvantaged communities.
Pursuant to President Biden’s Executive Order 13985, on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, FEMA is also conducting an equity assessment for all of its hazard mitigation grant programs to address barriers and expand access for disadvantaged communities. In addition, the FMA program will employ the Social Vulnerability Index to prioritize funding in disadvantaged communities and utilize mapping assessment tools at the census tract level.
In addition to this FEMA announcement, efforts across agencies are being coordinated as part of the Biden Administration’s whole-of-government approach to increase resilience, get funding, and address the needs of communities across the country, including through task forces like the Department of Homeland Security’s DHS Climate Change Action Group.
Through Executive Order 14008, on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, the President established the National Climate Task Force. The Task Force created five interagency working groups to support communities in addressing resilience strategies tied to drought, wildfires, extreme heat, coastal, and flood risks.
In addition, key agencies are supporting climate action by preparing plans to outline strategies to improve climate resilience. Under Executive Orders 14030, Climate-Related Financial Risk, and 14008, agencies are preparing reports on climate finance risk, improving climate forecasting, and providing information products to the public.