Navigating Disaster

An Empirical Study of Federal Assistance Following Hurricane Sandy

Originally published in Eastern Economic Journal

Federal disaster assistance should only compensate disaster victims for the damage sustained. Using zip code-level data on federal disaster assistance, this paper examines the FEMA Individuals and Households Program following Hurricane Sandy. We show that the extent of the damage does appear to explain much of the differences in the size of the federal disaster award that individuals receive. However, other factors, including percentage of foreign-born and the educational attainment levels of individuals in a community, also explain damage assessments and assistance levels. We argue that complexities in the application process may have disadvantaged foreign-born and less educated applicants.