May 28, 2021
FEMA Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street SW.
Washington DC 20024
Dear Administrator Criswell:
On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), congratulations on your confirmation as Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)! You assume the position as FEMA’s Administrator in unprecedented times given the enormous challenges posed by the pandemic and the effects of climate change. Anything that NCD can do to assist you, we stand ready to do so.
We’d like to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss a number of issues, foremost, critical issues relating to the pandemic and persons with disabilities. Specifically, we would like to discuss access to crisis counseling and the use of Public Assistance Category B funds to relocate people with disabilities from nursing homes to non-congregate settings by centers for independent living. We would also like to follow up on the recommendations from our 2019 report Preserving our Freedom: Ending Institutionalization of People with Disabilities During and After Disasters. In our report, NCD recommended:
- FEMA modify its individual assistance registration process to reduce the incident of institutionalization;
- Lead a review of the National Response Framework, Emergency Support Function Annexes and Federal Interagency Operations plans and all other applicable federal doctrine to determine any required updates to address responsibility for meeting the equal access, health maintenance, safety, and independence needs of children and adults with disabilities;
- Require mandatory training for state and local tribes and territories (SLTTs) so as to understand the scope of their obligations under the Rehabilitation Act when receiving federal funds.
NCD has a long history of collaboration with FEMA and that collaboration was strengthened with the passing of the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) in 2006. PKEMRA required NCD and FEMA work closely to improve the outcomes of persons with disabilities before, during and after disasters. To fulfill that requirement, NCD serves as a liaison within the disability community and FEMA. Since Katrina, NCD has released multiple reports pertaining to emergency management and people with disabilities. The reports are: The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina And Rita on People with Disabilities, Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities, Effective Communication for People with Disabilities: Before, During and After Emergencies and Preserving our Freedom: Ending Institutionalization of People with Disabilities During and After Disasters. Every NCD report includes recommendations to Congress and federal agencies supported by the findings and are distributed to the President and Congress. The recommendations in these reports aspire to improve the outcome of people with disabilities before, during and after disasters.
As COVID-19 swept across the nation, NCD began collaborated roundtable discussions with FEMA and the disability community to discuss the unique obstacles the pandemic placed on administering FEMA programs to people with disabilities. The meetings occurred weekly from April through July 2020. Because of the roundtable discussions, FEMA revised their personal assistance services (PAS) guidance to SLTTs. The revisions emphasize the responsibility of SLTTs to have PAS available at every shelter, provides best practices and emphasizes the legal requirement of shelter operators to have PAS available on demand without delay. NCD’s 2019 report Preserving our Freedom: Ending Institutionalization of People with Disabilities During and After Disasters discussed the absence of PAS at shelters as a contributing factor of people with disabilities being involuntarily institutionalized before, during and after disasters.
I look forward to meeting you to discuss these pressing issues. Time is of the essence to address the disability community and NCD’s concerns to ensure the safety of people with disabilities before, during and after disasters.
Andrés J Gallegos
Cc: Michael Coen Jr.
 NCD, Preserving our Freedom: Ending Institutionalization of People with Disabilities During and After Disasters
 NCD, Preserving Our Freedom: Ending Institutionalization of People with Disabilities during and after Disasters, https://ncd.gov/publications/2019/preserving-our-freedom, (accessed May 21, 2021)