About civil rights laws
The Federal government has enacted several laws that protect disaster survivors’ civil rights. It is illegal for disaster assistance and relief efforts to discriminate based on color, race, nationality, sex, religion, age, disability, or economic status when carrying out Federal assistance efforts.
Impact on frontline communities
Although the federal government has laws that protect survivors, discrimination often happens, and enforcement of these laws is relatively infrequent. Frontline communities, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color, in addition to low-income individual households, often suffer discrimination in disaster response and recovery.
How to file a complaint
If you “believe that discrimination has occurred in awarding or receiving Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds, services or benefits,” file a complaint. The alleged discrimination can be from FEMA itself, or any State or local government or agency that receives federal disaster funds from FEMA.
Acts of discrimination can include:
denying access to program services, aids, or benefits,
providing a different service, aid, or benefit, or providing them in a manner different than they are provided to others, or
segregating or separately treating individuals in any matter related to the receipt of any service, aid, or benefit.
To initiate a complaint, contact the FEMA Equal Rights office by calling FEMA headquarters’ Office of Equal Rights at (202) 212-3535 or email FEMA-EqualRights@FEMA.DHS.GOV. Submit complaints within 45 days from the date of discrimination. Usually, the person who helps you will give you the option of counseling or alternative dispute resolution. If things are not settled here, submit a formal complaint to:
Office of Equal Rights
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
4th Floor – 4SW-0915
Washington, D.C. 20472-3535
Make sure to include your name, contact information, and the details of the discrimination including who was involved, in as much detail as you can. You should also include the names of anyone at FEMA that may have more information.
Actions to take
File a complaint if believe you’ve been discriminated against.
Encourage others to file a complaint if you hear about discrimination.
Credit: This resource is from the NAACP’s In the Eye of the Storm: A People’s Guide to Transforming Crisis & Advancing Equity in the Disaster Continuum.