Part 3: It all comes down to equity
Public policy to deal with flooding involves a lot of big-ticket items that carry big implications for the future of communities that by choice or by economic necessity stand in harm’s way.
This issue all comes down to one of equity and equality.
Equality would ensure every community is provided the same resources and consideration regardless of their characteristics. But, as we have discussed, providing the same resources to a community that has less opportunity and ability to recover as one that is well positioned to do so results in the outcomes we have seen: Wealthy communities become wealthier while poorer communities fall further and further behind.
Equity calls for alleviating these disparities to create the opportunity for equal recovery rates and outcomes among disparate communities.
How do you do that? The following suggestions are a few items that will work toward leveling the playing field.
- “Rebalance” mitigation efforts with an emphasis on community impact and vulnerability rather than up-front economic loss, the latter putting higher-value properties ahead of those less able to cope on their own.
- Put more flexibility in FEMA guidelines to ease community burdens and allow for a creative use of funds.
- Better direct Community Block Development Grant funds to the best place for mitigation efforts — not necessarily within the damage area, but outside if needed. Flood mitigation is best placed upstream.
- Keep state funds flowing pending the arrival federal aid, which might be delayed after a federal disaster is declared and Iowa stops processing and paying disaster claims.
While these suggestions won’t fix everything, they offer a start to a discussion that needs to start now. Policy makers and recovery agents must take into account social vulnerability and community impacts to a greater extent than they already do if we are to break the downward spiral poor communities find themselves in following disasters.
Joseph Wilensky is a Master’s Degree candidate in the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning. Visit the Iowa Policy Project website for his December 2019 report, Flooding and Inequity: Policy Responses on the Front Line.
* Graphic credit: Matt Kinshella; culturalorganizing.org blog, “The problem with that equity-vs.equality graphic you’re using.” Copyright Paul Kuttner