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When the Water Recedes: Inequality in Disaster

By John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, Operation HOPE, Inc.

It can take up to 20 years for a city to recover from a major disaster. However, for many low- to moderate-income families affected by unexpected life events like natural disasters, the recovery never really comes.

The devastation of the disaster is ongoing; pulling lives into a vicious downward spiral of generational financial regression—exacerbating the disproportionate economic circumstances—lack of opportunity, low FICO scores, joblessness—that already exist. For those in underserved communities, the financial impact of the occurrence is extensive, and statistics reveal that these low-wealth groups are the last to recover.

The epic flood of 2009 in the metro Atlanta area resulted in $500 million in damage—with 20,000 homes and businesses sustaining major damage. In total, 17 counties, many with low-income communities, received Federal Disaster Declarations. The recovery and rebuild process continued into the following years. Many survivors of Hurricane Katrina represent lives still being reestablished; family wealth lost, the tide of financial upheaval uncurbed, over a decade later. 

With 10 percent of all structures in Houston flooded as a result of Hurricane Harvey, including around 200,000 homes, FEMA anticipates more than 800,000 will register for assistance. Only 15 percent of those affected have flood insurance. Over a million cars have been lost, and over 100,000 small business face interruption or failure due to the disaster. The reality for individuals, families, and small business there now looks like, mortgage payments, no house; payroll, no business; car payment, no car. The picture is even more dismal for those who had little to begin with, and are therefore ill-equipped to face an emergency. A survey by Bankrate.com revealed that 63 percent of Americans do not have enough saved for a $500 emergency, much less to cover the cost of impact from a calamity.

Though natural disasters strike without prejudice, the path to recovering from them is much less equal. The catastrophic events of the past week in Houston and coastal Texas, and happening now, in South Florida, underscore the disparate impact of disaster on the poor and disenfranchised. With the financial reality of property damage, job loss, business interruption, credit issues, and debt, millions of Americans are neck-deep in the uncertainty of what comes next and need a financial advocate to navigate a path towards financial recovery.

For over 1.2 million disaster survivors of federal-declared disasters in the last decade, that advocate has been HOPE Coalition America (HCA), the financial emergency arm of Operation HOPE and America’s first line of response for financial recovery. HCA teams have been in the Houston area since the start of last week, and are preparing to deploy to Florida.

HCA is the financial recovery partner for the American Red Cross and FEMA, and the only financial emergency preparedness and recovery service in the country. Through the HOPE Crisis Hotline and HCA on-site counseling centers, HOPE Inside coaches help guide individuals, families, and small businesses to access capital, manage mortgage payments on damaged or destroyed homes and businesses, file insurance claims and appeals, secure FEMA funds, communicate with creditors and mitigate credit issues, obtain SBA loans, and prevent foreclosure.

Financial recovery services are provided at no cost to survivors due to contributions to the HOPE Disaster Fund (Fund) by Operation HOPE’s financial partners. The Fund launched earlier this year and seeded with a $250,000 contribution by leading global property information, analytics, and data-enabled solutions provider, CoreLogic, was developed to underwrite efforts to provide necessary support to survivors. The goal is to raise $2 million for the Fund.

Long after the water has receded and the streets have dried out, HOPE will be there, uplifting communities and helping survivors recover with dignity, now and in the future.


Survivors can call 1-888-388-HOPE (4673) to access financial recovery services provided by HOPE Coalition America.

Individuals and organizations can support the financial recovery efforts led by HCA by contributing to the HOPE Disaster Fund at http://store.operationhope.org/

For more information on the HOPE Disaster Fund, contact Anita Ward, [email protected]

The best time to prepare financially for a disaster is now. Start with the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, a joint publication from Operation HOPE and FEMA’s Citizen Corps, and the Personal Disaster Preparedness Guide.


About Financial Inclusion

Operation HOPE, Inc., powers the broadest financial inclusion network in the country. Through strategic partnerships with organizations like SunTrust Banks, Wells Fargo, and Coca-Cola, the nonprofit is making free enterprise accessible to all by equipping youth and adults with the financial training and tools to realize their aspirations and ensure their financial wellbeing. Through its core programs, Operation HOPE has provided financial dignity and economic empowerment to over 2.8 million individuals worldwide, and $2.4 billion in economic activity for the disenfranchised—turning check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, and minimum wage workers into living wage consumers. Project 5117 is the organization’s multi-year four-pronged approach to combating economic inequality that aims to improve financial literacy, increase business role models and business internships for youth, and stabilize the American dream by boosting FICO scores.  The Atlanta Uplift 2020 initiative will escalate the organization’s services throughout the city to strengthen low- and middle-income families. For more information: www.OperationHOPE.org

Volunteer with HOPE Corps: http://www.operationhope.org/hopecorps

Learn more about membership levels: https://www.operationhope.org/becomeapartner

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