Disaster Assistance:

Improvements Needed in Determining Eligibility for Public Assistance

T-RCED-96-166: Published: Apr 30, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1996.

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GAO discussed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) public disaster assistance program. GAO noted that: (1) FEMA program criteria are ambiguous; (2) criteria clarifications are needed to determine which damaged facilities should be restored and the eligibility of nonprofit facilities' services for assistance; (3) inconsistent or inequitable eligibility determinations, time-consuming appeals, and waste are more likely to occur if eligibility criteria are not clear and current; (4) FEMA use of temporary employees with limited training to prepare damage survey reports makes the need for clearer criteria more urgent; (5) FEMA has not systematically updated or disseminated eligibility policy changes to its regional offices, but it plans to do so; (6) although it approves specific subgrantee projects, FEMA relies on states as public assistance grantees to certify that expenditures are limited to eligible items; (7) as an additional, limited control over disbursements, FEMA has independent auditors or its Inspector General Office audit some subgrantees; and (8) options to reduce costs include better defining local authorities that govern establishment of restoration standards, eliminating or restricting eligibility of certain facilities, placing limits on the appeals process, improving insurance requirements, limiting temporary relocation costs, and increasing the damage percentage for facility replacement.

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