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In Senate hearing, Murkowski cites Alaskans’ frustrations with navigating earthquake disaster assistance

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: April 3
  • Published April 3

In a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski highlighted the difficulties some Alaskans have had trying to get disaster aid after the Nov. 30 earthquake.

People are dealing with confusion around what types of home repairs are eligible for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Murkowski said. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing was to review FEMA’s budget request for fiscal year 2020.

Aid some Alaskans have received from the federal government has fallen short of what they need to address home damage from the 7.1 earthquake, she said.

“What they’re saying is, ‘Look, I’m not asking for FEMA to repay the cost of my home,’” she said. “They’re not asking for a Cadillac here, but they’re asking for the ability to have it restored to safe and habitable condition. ... It is a question of what is rational or reasonable in terms of expectations."

In mid-March, FEMA had paid out nearly $6 million in disaster aid to about 2,600 households, the Anchorage Daily News reported, and the typical amount of aid was between $2,000 and $6,000.

Murkowski criticized the agency’s individual assistance program as confusing, and said that it has a “black box” reputation.

“Nobody really knows what is eligible for a home repair award. No one knows whether inspectors are consistent,” she said. “The specific criteria that inspectors use isn’t readily available.”

FEMA’s acting administrator Peter Gaynor agreed with Murkowski.

“I can’t argue with you — sometimes it is complex and confusing,” Gaynor said. He added that the agency is working on how it can simplify the process.

There has also been “great frustration” among Alaskans who have tried to navigate between both FEMA and the state’s programs for aid, Murkowski said. The system should be better integrated, she said, so there aren’t similar frustrations somewhere else when another natural disaster hits.

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