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Katko Opening Statement In Hearing On Equity In Disaster Response

October 27, 2021

Katko Opening Statement In Hearing On Equity In Disaster Response

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following opening statement in a full committee hearing entitled, “Ensuring Equity in Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.”

Ranking Member Katko’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this very important hearing on equity in emergency management. I am thankful for the opportunity to discuss this topic and look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

Unfortunately, disasters around the globe have historically had greater negative impacts on lower-income and minority populations. The reasons for this are complex and numerous. Some of these reasons include:

  • Minimal investment in infrastructure before a disaster;
  • Lack of insurance or under-insurance;
  • Inability for those in disaster prone areas to flee when/before disaster strikes; and
  • A philanthropic gap after an event.

All these factors, and more, contribute to added negative impacts on the front end of a disaster, as well as slower and less effective response and recoveries after disaster strikes. These factors also, unfortunately, contribute to pushing more individuals and communities that are already on the brink into further poverty and despair.

According to a 2017 article in Scientific America, in the United States…“each big catastrophe like a hurricane increases a U.S. county’s poverty by 1 percent, 90 years of data show.”

In the United States, we have seen this phenomenon of greater short- and long-term damage to lower-income and minority areas play out through some of the country’s worst disasters. And these impacts can sometimes be extremely long lasting/permanent.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, 96,000 fewer African-Americans were living in New Orleans, than prior to Hurricane Katrina. Nearly 1 in 3 Black residents had not returned to the city after the storm. And, the median Black household in New Orleans in 2013 was $30,000, which is $5,000 less than it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation.

We see the impacts of disasters on these individuals and communities not only in the United States but across the world, where those already in poverty are disproportionally impacted by disasters. According to a 2016 World Bank report, some 26 million people are forced into poverty every year as a result of natural disasters.

A 2008 report from the United Nations stated that of the 262 million individuals affected in 2007 and 2008 by natural disasters, 98% of those people resided in developing nations – the poorest of the poor.

Mr. Chairman, like you, my District in Central New York also includes low-income and rural areas that may be disproportionately impacted by disasters. I know that both of us, if and when disaster strikes back home, would want assurances that all of our constituents are being treated in an equitable manner.

Mr. Chairman, these statistics from the United States and around the world are very eye-opening, and unfortunately, as I stated before, this phenomenon is not limited to one type of disaster, or even only to natural disasters.

Disadvantaged and minority communities were also – and continue to be – hit particularly hard by COVID. According to a recent article in Health Line Media, “Researchers report that the death rate from COVID-19 is significantly higher in Black, Native American, and Latino communities than other groups. They say some factors are underlying medical conditions, unequal access to healthcare services, and jobs that require employees to work closely with the public.” Additionally, in an article published by NBC News a few weeks ago, “Since the pandemic began, about 1 in 434 rural Americans have died from Covid, compared with roughly 1 in 513 urban Americans… And though vaccines have reduced overall Covid death rates since the winter peak, rural mortality rates are now more than double that of urban ones — and accelerating quickly.” This death rate is also directly correlated to counties with a high rate of poverty according to NIH.

Mr. Chairman, I again appreciate you having this hearing and shedding some light on this issue. I will say that I think we can do better, not only in the government, but in other organizations, such as non-profits and community-based organizations that work on these issues.

Since our focus today is on emergency management, I would like to simply challenge emergency managers, at all levels, to keep these anecdotes and statistics in mind as they work with communities on the full range of assistance, from pre-disaster mitigation, to flood insurance, to post-disaster assistance. We need to level the playing field and ensure that we are not only offering the same type and amount of assistance to everyone, but that emergency managers are considering the unique needs that certain communities and individuals have so that we can improve outcomes for all disaster survivors.

I know that FEMA has recently taken steps to help ensure equity in disaster assistance, including the formation of an Equity Enterprise Steering Group and the establishment of a robust stakeholder engagement process to develop FEMA’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan. The Equity Enterprise Steering Group focuses on assessing issues such as access and delivery of FEMA programs, activities, and services. I hope these initiatives and others allow for greater access and inclusion in FEMA programs.

We should consider ourselves very fortunate to live in a country that has the resources and programs to help our communities and individual citizens before, during, and after disasters. That is certainly not the case in all countries around the world. We also have tens of thousands of professionals dedicated to the field of emergency management, and related fields, including our witnesses here today.

I look forward to hearing from them on how to better achieve equity in emergency management to ensure that all Americans and the communities they live in are able to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from any and all disasters.

Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I yield back.