Disaster Assistance

Improvements Needed in Determining Eligibility for Public Assistance Gao ID: RCED-96-113 May 23, 1996

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) public assistance program funds the repair of public and private nonprofit facilities, such as roads, government buildings, utilities, and hospitals, that are damaged during natural disasters. Under the program, FEMA has spent more than $6.5 billion for disasters that occurred during fiscal years 1989-94. This report (1) reviews FEMA's criteria for determining eligibility for public assistance, (2) examines how FEMA ensures that public assistance money is spent only for eligible items, and (3) discusses changes in eligibility that could lower the costs of public assistance in the future.

GAO found that: (1) while FEMA must fund the restoration of eligible facilities in accordance with applicable building codes, it is unclear whether the building codes that existed before the disaster or at the time of restoration should apply; (2) the eligibility of certain private, nonprofit facilities that provide essential governmental services to the general public is unclear; (3) without clear eligibility criteria, FEMA cannot control program costs or ensure consistent eligibility determinations; (4) eligibility determinations were not systematically codified and disseminated to FEMA personnel; (5) FEMA relies on states, independent audits, and its inspector general to ensure that federal funds are only spent on eligible restorations; and (6) changing various eligibility requirements in accordance with FEMA program officials' recommendations could reduce FEMA public assistance program costs.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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