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Report: Rural, disadvantaged communities missing out on federal disaster prep dollars

A gray map of the U.S. with some states colored in green with various sized green circles in them.
Headwaters Economics
Headwaters Economics
A map shows which states received more than $20 million in FEMA BRIC funding.

Parts of our region are missing out on federal funding to help communities prepare for disasters and build climate resilience.

That’s according to a new report from Montana-based Headwaters Economics, which analyzed the projects selected in the latest round of FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant program. The $2.3 billion awarded this year showed similar geographic unevenness to previous years. Nearly 80% went to coastal states, and the bottom half of recipients received less than 5% of the total.

Among Mountain West states, only Utah is set to receive more than $20 million in the latest round.

Headwaters’ Kristin Smith said many communities struggle to pull together all of the materials necessary for a complicated federal grant.

“When you talk about some of our smaller communities, our rural communities, more disadvantaged places, you likely don't have a single engineer on staff,” she said. “You might not have a planner on staff or a grant writer.”

Headwaters classifies communities from low to high capacity based on a number of factors, including poverty levels, voter turnout and whether they have a head of planning. This year, more than 80% of funding went to high-capacity communities, and just 3% went to low-capacity applicants.

Smith suggested several steps that could help more funding reach more rural, lower-capacity communities. They include making the application process simpler, waiving or reducing more local grant-matching requirements and having states provide assistance.

“There are ways that states can help support their rural and lower capacity communities by providing technical assistance at the state level, by providing local match funds to local communities, by helping with grant writing,” she said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.
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