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Show me the money

My World's on Fire
Show me the money
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #56 • View online
Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!

Today’s newsletter is about the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, a topic I’ve covered before in this newsletter. If you aren’t sure or could use a refresher on what that is, check out this edition from May before reading on!
Last month, FEMA announced its selection of 406 cities to move forward in the process to receive BRIC funding for mitigation projects. This decision came about nine months after the agency opened the program for its inaugural round of applications.
It’s important to note this shortlist will still go through further review, meaning these projects are not yet getting a green light. Still, since this is a new, heavily promoted program from the agency and one the Biden administration has announced plans to invest in more moving forward, I wanted to spend some time looking into the program’s progression. It’ll be the subject of this week’s newsletter and next, focusing first on the information the agency has released so far about applicants and then taking a bigger-picture look at what it takes to apply for the grant, all in hopes of helping you better understand who the program is currently serving.
Let’s start with what FEMA shared: those nearly 1,000 applications came from a combined 53 states and territories, as well as 40 tribes. For this round, no state will receive more than $600,000, and the agency set aside $20 million for tribes. 
From there, the agency offered an alphabetical list of all those applicants, categorized by whether they are receiving further review, were not selected, or did not meet the specific criteria created for this program. To dig into this data, I spoke with Dr. Kris Smith of Headwaters Economics, an independent, non-partisan research organization she describes as “half think thank, half community assistance program.” Smith has firsthand experience with the BRIC program, having helped a town in Montana put together an application (more on that next week). When she saw the July announcement from FEMA, she decided to organize it by state in hopes of getting a better idea of which areas are positioned to benefit most from the program. Through her analysis, she discovered a stark regional divide. 
“It was predominantly our urban centers, the wealthier communities on the coasts,” she told me by phone in late July. “The interior United States got almost no money.”
Graphic from Headwaters Economics
Graphic from Headwaters Economics
Smith found that 94% of BRIC funding is likely to go to East Coast and Pacific Coast states. The Mountain West region she was personally working in failed to receive any funding for infrastructure despite significant flooding issues – a disparity she called “stunning.” Anna Weber, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, mapped it out, sharing the visualization on Twitter (click through for a thread that offers some additional context).
Anna Weber
Hi folks - I screwed up the previous version of my #FEMA #BRIC map and left out some projects! 😬

This version should be (more) accurate. Note that in this one, circles represent counties, not subapplications - if a county has 2+ projects the amounts are combined into one symbol https://t.co/OKnejfjrid https://t.co/EOAfa6uB1W
When Smith and I first started speaking, she told me that getting federal funding to a small community is always a longshot. That’s part of the agency’s ongoing struggle to direct dollars where they are needed most – to communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of disasters and climate change. But that understanding was actually factored into the design of the BRIC program, with FEMA specifically targeting communities it classifies as “small and impoverished.” According to the agency, there was a rise in applications from such locales, but Smith found that, of the $123.2 million requested in grants for small and impoverished communities, just $35.7 million was selected by FEMA to progress – 29% of funds requested.
“There are just some places that are so low capacity that they’re never going to be able to get federal funding through a competitive grant process. And so, what do we do for those communities?“ Smith questioned, adding, “Is a competitive grant process the right tool to really fund something as big as climate change adaptation? I think we probably need to be more creative.”
Next week, I’ll detail more of our conversation around why that is and what those barriers to entry look like for the BRIC program specifically. Be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already to receive that email, and if you have any questions about BRIC you’re interested in having answered in that edition, reply to this email to reach me.
As always...
thank you for reading and subscribing to My World’s on Fire. You can support this newsletter and get access to exclusive content by signing up for my Patreon. It also means the world to me when you post about it on social media – be sure to tag me if you do!
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
Colleen
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Colleen Hagerty

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