Disaster aid is an increasingly costly form of social spending and an often-overlooked way that welfare states manage risks related to climate change. In this talk, I reveal how disaster welfare programs exacerbate racial and socioeconomic inequalities through an institutional process of aid access. Analyzing data on 5.37 million applicant records from FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP), results demonstrate that key institutional features—the conditions of eligibility, administrative burdens of proof, and bureaucratic interactions with state inspectors—combine in a stepwise process to funnel resources for housing repair to higher-income households in whiter, more affluent communities. More broadly, this talk advances a theoretical account of social policies as institutional processes, and it posits climate risks as new forms of social risk against which welfare states insure citizens.
Ethan J. Raker is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Harvard University. His research interests include inequality, climate change, disasters, health, and neighborhoods. His scholarship applies novel administrative and climate data to address theoretical questions about the relationship between the natural environment and the organization of human society. Some of his work has appeared in the Annual Review of Sociology, Demography, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Social Science & Medicine, and other outlets. He is from suburban Indianapolis and holds a B.A. in Sociology and Business from Columbia University.