The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided hotel rooms to about 90,000 households (nearly 227,000 survivors) after the 2017 California wildfires and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
However, a new report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says FEMA did not oversee and manage the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program to ensure it operated efficiently and effectively to meet disaster survivors’ needs.
FEMA is responsible for helping state and territorial governments develop pre-disaster plans for mass care, emergency assistance, transitional sheltering, interim housing, and human services. For the 2017 disasters, FEMA spent about $642 million for hotel rooms for disaster survivors in the TSA program.
OIG found FEMA did not accurately validate taxes charged for hotel rooms and did not ensure the contractor responsible for administering the TSA program maintained accurate records to show taxes charged were reasonable and allocable. The review also discovered that FEMA paid for unoccupied rooms and did not transition survivors from TSA hotels to interim or permanent housing in a timely fashion. Further, the watchdog found FEMA did not adequately coordinate with states and a territory to prepare initial housing strategies.
OIG determined that the deficiencies occurred because FEMA officials did not establish standard operating procedures and a dedicated program office with sufficient staff to support the TSA program. As a result, FEMA paid more than $55.8 million in unverified taxes, disbursed indeterminate amounts for unoccupied rooms, and left over 146,000 disaster survivors to remain in hotels for more than the recommended 30 days.
To avoid a repeat of these deficiencies, OIG recommended that FEMA’s Office of Response and Recovery direct the Mass Care and Emergency Assistance Branch to establish a business unit, assign responsibility, and delegate authority to ensure the effective and efficient implementation, oversight, and management of the TSA program.
FEMA concurred and stated that the Individual Assistance Division has established a dedicated TSA unit under the Mass Care, Voluntary Agency Coordination and Community Services Branch to oversee the implementation and management of the TSA program and noncongregate sheltering efforts in response to future events. Currently, there is one full-time dedicated staff member with three additional detailees to provide support. Mass Care is preparing to on-board additional staff to support this unit.
OIG also recommended FEMA’s Office of Response and Recovery direct the Mass Care and Emergency Assistance Branch to develop, document, and implement standard operating procedures for the TSA Program.
Fema concurred and said the TSA unit is actively developing resources, tools, and procedures to support a more effective TSA program.