Following a newly released report on disaster response from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and after a spate of destructive tornadoes in the midwest and the start of the 2019 hurricane season, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced legislation to help Americans before, during and after natural disasters strike.

The Casey-Collins Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion (REAADI) for Disasters Act would help with the development of emergency and disaster preparedness plans to address the unique needs of older Americans and people with disabilities. The Casey Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (DRMA) would ensure that Medicaid-eligible Americans who are displaced due to natural disasters are guaranteed continued access to Medicaid health care and supported services.

U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) will introduce the House version of the REAADI Act. U.S. Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL) will introduce the House version of DRMA.

“Inadequate planning for disasters can mean life or death, so it is critically important that every community is prepared to meet the needs of all citizens—including older adults and people with disabilities—before, during and after a disaster strikes,” Casey said. “We must ensure that seniors and people with disabilities are active participants in developing emergency preparedness plans that will keep them safe.”

“As we have learned from natural disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, some of our neighbors – especially seniors and individuals with disabilities – face many obstacles during a crisis. We must focus on the attention they may need,” said Senator Collins. “By improving training and coordination, this bipartisan legislation would help ensure that local, state, and federal officials are adequately equipped to care for the most vulnerable members of our communities during a natural disaster.”

“Older Americans and people with disabilities are especially vulnerable during emergencies, and we must make sure their unique needs are considered in disaster management plans,” Langevin, co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, said. “As someone who lives with a disability, I take this issue to heart. The REAADI for Disasters Act will help eliminate barriers faced by people with disabilities and older adults during disasters by providing them a greater role in the policymaking process. The Disaster Relief Medicaid Act will provide continued access to critical Medicaid support services. I thank Senators Casey and Collins for leading this effort in the Senate, and I look forward to working with Representatives Shalala and Smith to get these critical bills passed in the House.”

“Natural disasters often create long-term health problems for those displaced from their home states. No one should have to choose between remaining in a dangerous location and maintaining healthcare coverage. I am proud to introduce this legislation in the House and will continue to champion these efforts to ensure that all Americans get the medical care that they deserve—no matter the hardship,” Shalala said.

“National disasters strike indiscriminately, and a better informed, coordinated and inclusive federal response is needed to ensure that everyone—especially the elderly and people with disabilities—has access to essential recovery and support systems,” Smith said. “The National Commission envisioned by the REAADI Act will address the gaps in our federal response programs and give vulnerable populations a stronger voice to promote communication, rescue, housing and other provisional activities that are truly inclusive of special needs and thus more effective for all.”

The REAADI for Disasters Act (S. 1755)

The REAADI for Disasters Act, introduced by Casey and Collins, would support the development of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation plans that are inclusive of seniors and people with disabilities. The legislation would also ensure that seniors and people with disabilities have a voice in creating emergency plans that directly affect them. Senators cosponsoring the bill include Doug Jones (D-AL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

The Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (S. 1754)

The Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (DRMA) would ensure Medicaid services are consistently available for individuals forced to relocate to another state due to disaster or emergency.  It would protect those residing in an area covered under a presidential disaster declaration as a “Relief-Eligible Survivor,” and grant them the support needed to easily access or apply for Medicaid services in their host state. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are cosponsoring this bill.

GAO Report: FEMA Action Needed to Better Support Individuals Who Are Older or Have Disabilities

The GAO report examined the disaster response and recovery of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017.  The report recommends that FEMA implement new registration intake questions related to disability and disability needs, clearly communicate goals for their new disability integration approach to Regional Administrators and Integration Specialists and develop and adhere to a timeline of completing new disability training for partner organizations.

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