FEMA’s disasters

The Post spent a year chronicling how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is struggling in its increasingly urgent mission to help America’s disaster survivors in the age of climate change and stark inequality

Mike and Crystal Erickson's trailer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency park in Chico, Calif. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Mike and Crystal Erickson's trailer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency park in Chico, Calif. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post’s five-part series, “FEMA’s Disasters,” exposed holes in the safety net for disaster survivors at a time when that support is more needed than ever, with aid especially out of reach for poor families and people of color.

This project is built on months of embedded reporting, dozens of public-records requests, the creation of several databases and an analysis of 9.5 million case records of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Life in a last-gasp FEMA camp for wildfire survivors

By Hannah Dreier

When survivors have nowhere to go, the government sends FEMA to provide housing. But now, with disasters and the needs that follow them increasing, the government finds itself trying to decide what it owes the displaced. How long is long enough to shelter the most vulnerable? And should an emergency management agency really be playing landlord in the first place?

For Mike Erickson, the looming question was more urgent: What would happen in 12 days when the FEMA trailer park that had been his home closed down?

Read the complete story, “The last days inside Trailer 83”

Aid denied to Black families that have lived for generations in the Deep South

By Hannah Dreier and Andrew Ba Tran

Many Black families live on land informally passed down between generations. It’s a custom that dates to the Jim Crow era, when Black people were systematically excluded from the Southern legal system. Families believed informal ownership protected their land, but it has in fact become the leading cause of Black land loss in the United States. Without formal deeds, families are cut off from federal loans and grants, including from FEMA.

A Post analysis showed for the first time that disaster survivors in Black-majority communities are denied FEMA aid twice as often as other Americans because of the agency’s formal deed requirements.

Read the complete story, “The real damage”

“Please stop playing games with me”

By Hannah Dreier

Just as natural disasters have become more frequent and intense, FEMA has grown dramatically more restrictive with the help it gives out.

FEMA used to approve two-thirds of survivors who applied for help rebuilding their homes, but that changed after the agency came under criticism for letting fraud slip through following Hurricane Katrina. The Post revealed that FEMA is now rejecting nearly 90 percent of applicants for aid, some of whom are living with leaking roofs and crumbling floors.

Read the complete story, “Assistance not approved”

Inside the struggles and heartaches of FEMA’s massive covid funeral assistance program

By Hannah Dreier

Follow a young woman burned out from call-center work in FEMA’s covid funeral reimbursement program and a man on the other side of the country trying to fulfill an impossible bureaucratic requirement to get assistance for his father’s funeral.

Read the complete story, “My sincere condolences”

Why FEMA’s billion-dollar program to prevent disasters fails the most high-risk communities

By Hannah Dreier and Andrew Ba Tran

As climate disasters worsen, President Biden is directing FEMA to shift more of its efforts to preventing them. Biden has committed an unprecedented $5 billion in new funding to minimize future disasters. But of the $11 billion FEMA already allocated for this work over the past decade, little more than $1 billion has been spent. The vast majority of the money is caught up in delays that leave poor, rural and non-White towns and cities waiting years to get started on urgently needed work.

Read the complete story, “The ring in the ashes”


The series won the 2022 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Investigative Reporting.