For better or worse, we live in a society dominated by the automobile; Americans are notoriously dependent on automobiles for access to goods and services, for social and economic development, and for sustenance. In disaster situations, transportation can be critical to individual and household recovery efforts, particularly for those in areas with no public transportation or where public transportation has been disrupted. FEMA’s statutory mandate charges the agency with “alleviat[ing] the suffering and damage,” and unsurprisingly, this mandate encompasses disruptions to local transportation systems; the agency’s statutes and regulations authorize FEMA to provide financial aid for transportation needs, including repair or replacement of disaster–damaged personal vehicles. But to be eligible, FEMA requires proof of an applicant’s auto accident liability insurance—despite the fact that such insurance would not have covered the damaged vehicle. The only plausible policy reason given for this rule is that FEMA will not provide aid for vehicles not in compliance with state law. However, state mandatory insurance laws exist to reduce the numbers of uninsured motorists, a goal with little, if any, discernible relationship to FEMA’s mission of disaster relief. Moreover, most uninsured vehicles are owned by low-income households, and the postdisaster punitive effect on uninsured disaster survivors could violate FEMA’s antidiscrimination provisions, which include protections on the basis of economic status. What is more, auto insurance mandates are of dubious efficacy—raising more questions about the eligibility requirement. This Article examines and critiques the FEMA auto insurance mandate in light of the agency’s mission and history, and the mandate to alleviate disaster-related economic harms to low-income families. Further, this Article considers both the policy arguments and the potential for successful challenges to the policy through litigation or agency procedures.
Anne Sikes Hornsby,
Roadblock to Recovery: How FEMA's Liability Insurance Mandate Denies Low-Income Disaster Survivors Essential Transportation Benefits,
96 Marq. L. Rev. 735
Available at: https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/mulr/vol96/iss3/3