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The Hurricane Laura Recovery Relay Race Has Begun

It can be helpful to think of disaster recovery funding as a relay race, where teams pass the baton at different legs to achieve a common goal - speed recovery for disaster impacted individuals. Now more than ever, speed of recovery is critical. During COVID-19, our homes are protecting us and we must return people to their homes as quickly as possible. Funding delays can cause disaster-impacted individuals to reach their physical, emotional and financial breaking points.

This relay is not a competition, rather, a collaborative effort that requires an understanding of each runner’s pace and effectiveness within the baton-passing zone. The passing zone is the area in which both runners are running together before the handoff. Philanthropy and government are the “runners,” and their ability to run together in the passing zone is the key to returning families home and communities back to normal.

When disaster strikes, the first runners start quickly, and so begins the first leg of the relay race. Both government and philanthropy set the pace of the race. From a philanthropic standpoint, 70-80 percent of total monetary donations are raised within the first two to three weeks of a disaster, and most of the time these funds are donated for immediate relief, not long-term recovery.

FEMA plays a role in funding recovery via Individual Assistance (IA) payments, which are meant to cover emergency needs like temporary housing, replacement of clothing, and potentially some home repairs. Funds to rebuild homes and infrastructure after disaster come in the form of Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). These funds do not typically reach impacted residents for at least 2 years. This gap is when philanthropy plays its most important and enduring role: the second leg of the race.

The second leg of the race begins after two to four weeks. FEMA, relief nonprofits and donors are ready to pass the baton to the next runners. A proper handoff is contingent upon long-term recovery nonprofits, like SBP, and the foundations receiving strong philanthropic investment to keep recovery moving forward until the federal long-term recovery funding is available. Simply put, monetary donations allow recovery to continue during this time, not the federal government.

The third leg of the race is when the federal funding becomes available. Thousands of people who have been living in temporary housing, or in their gutted homes are now able to begin rebuilding. The runners of this leg, are long-term recovery nonprofits, government programs responsible for managing the federal funds, and for-profit contractors.

By no means is this the end of recovery, but the beginning of the last and longest leg of the race. The handoff is just as important. Success depends on the effectiveness of the government leaders running the recovery, as for many it is the first time managing millions or billions of dollars (read here about SBP’s firsthand experience and insights). While leaders set their goals and build their recovery plans with specific outcomes identified, runners in the second leg need to keep recovery going, and they need the philanthropic dollars to do so.

Philanthropy’s role in disaster recovery is to fill a crucial gap of time between the beginning and end of the race. Survivors rely on donors for support many months after the storm. We are all runners in the disaster relay race, and it is up to us to make informed decisions about philanthropy that will allow the initial contributions to carry through until recovery is complete.