PRESS RELEASE: Stakeholder Meeting with FEMA Administrator Criswell
Date: August 19, 2021
Contact: Germán Parodi & Shaylin Sluzalis
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Disability Community Stakeholders Meet with FEMA Administrator Criswell
On Tuesday, August 17, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies hosted a Disability Community Stakeholders virtual meeting with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who was appointed by President Biden earlier this year. Seven disabled panelists, joined by over 100 stakeholders, spoke to systemic barriers disabled people have faced during disasters including the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrator Criswell followed with brief comments on FEMA’s commitment to disabled people.
Ebony Payne, a current resident of a nursing facility, shared, “I am stuck in a dangerous nursing facility in Illinois because there are no emergency relocation options available to help me get out of this scary and deadly place… I am scared for my life in this petri dish. There are FEMA funds to pay for my funeral, but there are no FEMA funds for emergency protective measures for me to relocate to safety.” Misty Dion, CEO of Center for Independent Living of North Central PA (CILNCP), responded, “There are Centers for Independent Living (CILs) across the nation that provide Nursing Home Transition and could easily implement emergency relocation programs if we had access to additional resources like FEMA’s Public Assistance Category B reimbursement funds, but we keep getting told we aren’t eligible for reimbursement. CILs like ours across the country could help people like Ebony if we were funded.”
The stakeholders also described the inaccessibility of a question that theoretically identifies disability-related losses on the FEMA Individual Assistance Application and the lack of a mechanism to request accessibility accommodations. Tom Olin, a disabled resident of Texas, shared his experience of barriers in completing the form after the Texas Winter Storm. Marcie Roth, FEMA Office of Disability Integration and Coordination’s (ODIC) original director, reminded the Administrator that these issues and civil rights violations have been raised since at least as far back as 2010 and that little progress has been made.
Administrator Criswell responded to stakeholders by saying, “I just want to say FEMA does remain committed to helping people with disabilities before, during, and after disasters. One of my priorities as I came into this role was to advance equity across all of our programs.”
“It’s people first, and that's the mantra that I continue to put forward with all of our staff, is that if we put people first, then we deliver our programs equitably just by default. We take care of people when they are our primary focus, then there's no question that we're trying to do everything we can to reduce the barriers to access of the programs that we have. To that end, I'd just like to say that we're really focused on trying to integrate the needs of people with disabilities across all our programs and services and expanding this capacity across the agency...
So you have my commitment to make sure that we are addressing the concerns that you mentioned as we opened up this call, and concerns and questions that you may have as we continue to go through this. I may not get it right from the beginning, but I commit to you that we'll continue to work on this. It's extremely important that we make sure, again, that we are putting people first, and that people with disabilities -- your concerns are my concerns, and I will do everything I can to make sure that we are addressing those.”