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Climate change hits poorer communities harder. For some, FEMA's grants are out of reach.

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An investigation of FEMA’s data by NPR shows that affluent survivors are more likely to receive help.As disappointed officials learn why their projects were turned down, some advocates are questioning whether the agency ’s long-criticized disparities in disaster assistance are at risk of being repeated in a program meant to buttress communities before disasters happen.Jacqueline Patterson, the recently retired director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, said FEMA needs to be aggressive about reaching towns and cities that are particularly vulnerable.“Communities don’t have the luxury of time for trial and error when we’re talking about lives that are being lost as we speak,” she said.David Maurstad, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for federal insurance and mitigation, said in a statement that the agency “is committed to delivering our programs with equity.” FEMA “will be persistent in our efforts to refine and improve the program through the lessons we learn and the feedback we receive from our stakeholders.”FEMA is planning a second round of funding for the nascent program, though the agency has not yet set a timeline for opening applications. Income is often a deciding factor between residents who can afford the mitigation efforts and residents who cannot.Andreani said the county is checking to see if Covid relief funds can be used for fire prevention, as the state’s congressional delegation continues to lobby for increased federal aid to fight wildfires.In Amazonia, Missouri, Mayor Rick Russell learned that the small town’s request to FEMA to help address flood threats was denied just weeks after a deluge of rain on June 24 led to emergency boat evacuations.“We were really hoping for this grant, especially after this flood,” he said.Russell is waiting to see if his town will receive federal disaster assistance for damage to infrastructure, including roads. The area was one of at least 21 counties in Missouri hit hard by storms and flooding last month.If the disaster funds come through, that could provide some relief — but Russell is still grappling with how to address the needs that led him to apply for FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant program in the first place.During last month’s flood, Amazonia received more than 12 inches of rain in a day, covering the town’s generator with almost 2 feet of water, making it inoperable.When the power goes out, the generator works as the town’s backstop, allowing its sewer system to continue pumping out water.

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