- Funding for the upcoming year of a Federal Emergency Management Agency pre-disaster mitigation program is more than doubling, to $2.3 billion, drawing on some support from last year’s infrastructure law, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.
- Entering its third year, the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program allows local communities, along with states, tribes and territories, to seek support for hazard mitigation projects to proactively reduce their vulnerability to hurricanes, flooding and other events that are becoming more common and extreme with climate change.
- The BRIC funding news came as part of a broader announcement from the Biden administration on Wednesday on executive actions targeting the climate crisis. Biden said late Wednesday he will make a decision soon about declaring a climate emergency.
In its first year, the BRIC program had a $500 million budget, which doubled to $1 billion this past year and is now more than doubling again, to $2.3 billion, for the coming year.
Anna Weber, a policy analyst on the water and climate team at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that in previous years of the program, applicants have requested about $4 billion to support their needs. “And so, while $2.3 billion is a big increase from previous years, I think it's likely that we’ll still see more demand than is available in the grant,” Weber said.
The program was previously amended following criticism that awards were being concentrated in certain regions and concerns that better-resourced governments were benefiting most from the competitive program. The White House fact sheet released Wednesday specified that “FEMA is prioritizing communities that have long been marginalized, overburdened, and underserved” as part of the administration’s Justice40 initiative.
Since BRIC’s inception, FEMA has adjusted eligibility and prioritization criteria to try to level the playing field between communities of different sizes and resources. Weber thinks that a greater focus on capacity-building in communities that may have fewer resources could help further.
“You can make a lot of changes to prioritization criteria, but if the application pool doesn't represent the communities that need the funding the most, you're not going to get all the way,” Weber said. Support for capacity-building would help communities “actually compete for this kind of funding as well as just build their adaptive capacity to climate change in general.”
Funding for capacity-building could, for instance, be used to hire consultants who can help the community apply for grants, or for updating building codes, which can make a community’s proposal more competitive, Weber explained.
Vanessa Castillo, deputy director of mitigation at Hagerty Consulting, a firm that focuses on emergency management, noted that while the unprecedented level of funding is exciting, the program has room to be more nimble, both in the types of applications it supports and in the timeline for seeing projects through to fruition.
For example, Castillo said that while the administration’s announcement called out heat waves, droughts and wildfires as among the hazards BRIC can help protect against, there’s little precedent that demonstrates how communities can do a benefit-cost analysis and create a successful application in these areas.
FEMA and applicants alike have much more experience with projects related to flood mitigation than with other areas of climate adaptation, according to Castillo. In addition, when projects are selected for funding, there’s a significant lag time in funds reaching those communities, and lengthy environmental reviews for complex infrastructure projects further delay shovels in the ground.
Weber said, given FEMA’s timeline the past few years, interested applicants can most likely expect a notice of funding opportunity this fall.