Methods: This study explores FEMA assistance provided to North Carolina residents after Hurricane Florence in 2018. This study analyzes publicly available records from OpenFEMA that include all applicants (N=138,107) for FEMA assistance in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence. This study uses descriptive statistics to examine the households who applied for assistance, the housing they were living in at the time of the storm, what assistance each applicant was eligible for and received from FEMA, and FEMA’s decisions at key points during the application process (e.g., whether a property was inspected by FEMA). This study aims to identify barriers to FEMA assistance by examining which points in the application process seem to disproportionately find low-income mobile homeowners ineligible for assistance and what personal factors (income levels, insurance rates) are associated with assistance denials.
Results: This study finds that after Hurricane Florence only about one-quarter (26%) of mobile homeowners who applied received any FEMA housing assistance even though over 91% received an inspection (the first necessary step to receiving assistance). About 17% received rental assistance and 22% received repair assistance (some households received both). Less than 1% received Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA, which pays for motel rooms). Yet FEMA assessed that 80% of mobile homes incurred damage from the storm and 35% of were uninhabitable. Applicants had few personal resources to draw on: over two-thirds of applicants had incomes below $30,000 annually, and only 2% had flood insurance. Regression results indicate that mobile homeowners had lower rates of assistance receipt after inspection compared to non-mobile single-family homeowners even after controlling for income, damage amounts, and insurance rates (β= -.435, p<.001).
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that mobile homeowners faced significant barriers to receiving assistance after Hurricane Florence and had few personal resources to draw on to help repair their homes. Mobile homeowners successfully navigated the initial stages of the process (up through receiving an inspection) but experienced high rates of denial after inspection. Recent adjustments to FEMA assistance policy may improve some of these outcomes by reducing paperwork requirements and making other changes, but state and federal policymakers should still focus on making sure that vulnerable groups, including people living in mobile homes, receive the disaster assistance they need.