Disaster Assistance:

Greater Coordination and an Evaluation of Programs' Outcomes Could Improve Disaster Case Management

GAO-09-561: Published: Jul 8, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2009.

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As a result of the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the federal government, for the first time, funded several disaster case management programs. These programs help victims access services for disaster-related needs. GAO was asked to review (1) steps the federal government took to support disaster case management programs after the hurricanes, (2) the extent to which federal agencies oversaw the implementation of these programs, (3) challenges case management agencies experienced in delivering disaster case management services, and (4) how these programs will inform the development of a federal case management program for future disasters. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance, obtained data from two programs, conducted site visits to Louisiana and Mississippi, and interviewed case management providers and officials from federal and state agencies involved in disaster case management.

Federal agencies provided more than$209 million for disaster case management services to help thousands of households cope with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but breaks in federal funding adversely affected services to some hurricane victims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded a grant of $66 million for initial case management services provided by Katrina Aid Today (KAT) shortly after the hurricanes made landfall. When this program ended in March 2008, FEMA provided funds for additional programs to continue services. As a result of ongoing budget negotiations between FEMA and Mississippi, the state-managed Disaster Case Management Pilot (DCM-P) program in Mississippi did not begin until August 2008, approximately 2 months after it was scheduled to, and FEMA's DCM-P program in Louisiana was never implemented. Consequently, some victims most in need may not have received case management services. FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided some oversight of disaster case management programs, but monitoring of KAT was limited and coordination challenges may provide lessons for future disasters. As recovery continued, FEMA and HUD provided additional monitoring of subsequent programs. Coordination challenges contributed to implementation difficulties, such as a lack of timely information sharing. For example, client information provided by FEMA to the Mississippi state agency implementing the DCM-P program was invalid or out-of-date for nearly 20 percent of eligible clients. As a result of incompatible databases and inconsistent outreach efforts, some victims may have received services from multiple agencies while others may not have been reached. Case management agencies experienced challenges in delivering federally-funded disaster case management services due to large caseloads, limited community resources, and federal funding rules. Some case management agencies experienced high turnover, and some case managers had caseloads of more than 100 clients, making it difficult to meet client needs. KAT and HUD data indicated that the most frequently occurring needs among clients included housing and employment, but these resources were limited following the hurricanes. Further, case management agencies saw the ability to provide direct financial assistance for items such as home repair, clothing, or furniture as key to helping victims, yet only one federally funded program allowed case management agencies to use federal funds for direct assistance. FEMA and other agencies are evaluating disaster case management pilot programs to inform the development of a federal disaster case management program for future disasters, but some of the evaluations have limitations. For example, some evaluations will not assess program outcomes, such as whether clients' needs were met. In addition, FEMA did not include stakeholder input in designing its evaluation of multiple pilot programs. According to FEMA officials, the agency does not have a time line for developing the federal disaster case management program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA concurred with this recommendation and has worked with the Department of Health and Human Service's Administration for Children and Families (HHS/ACF) to develop a Disaster Case Management Program (DCM). The two agencies have been meeting on a biweekly basis since September 2010 and have an MOA in place for the ACF component of the Immediate DCM program. FEMA has established a timeline for the release of: DCM program guidance, grant application fact sheet, and FAQs, which calls for all components to be completed by October 2013.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to establish a realistic and achievable time line for designing and implementing a single, federal disaster case management program for future disasters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2010, FEMA Headquarters Disaster Case Management (DCM) staff hosted a DCM summit in New Orleans, LA. The summit included representatives from federal and state agencies and from voluntary agencies involved in providing DCM services. Discussion topics at the summit included, among others, the transfer of case files between federal to state agencies and communications with voluntary organizations. In addition, in March 2011, officials from FEMA and ACF signed a memorandum of agreement setting forth the responsibilities of FEMA and ACF with regard to disaster response and recovery, including DCM activities in particular. The MOU establishes a number of ways in which FEMA and ACF will coordinate on DCM activities, including the establishment of common goals, sharing of information, regular coordination meetings, and the standardization of forms, training and data collection. The MOU also describes ways in which FEMA and ACF will involve state agencies and voluntary organizations in DCM activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to ensure that the federal disaster case management program FEMA develops includes practices to enhance and sustain coordination among federal and nonfederal stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA concurred with this recommendation. The Department of Veteran's Affairs, supported by a federal interagency agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, completed its DCMP Evaluation Planning Project Final Report: A Working Model and Tools for DCMP Evaluation on 08/15/11. The report, based on evaluations and a review of reports on disaster case management programs following several disasters (including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), presents a working model for DCMP evaluation and was used to guide the development of standardized tools and procedures for the DCM program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to conduct an outcome evaluation to determine the results of disaster case management pilot programs that have assisted victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as pilot programs for victims of subsequent disasters. Such an evaluation will further inform the development of the federal disaster case management program for future disasters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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