More than half the money went to California, New Jersey and Washington State. The largest single recipient was a $68 million flood-control project in Menlo Park, Calif., where the median household income is more than $160,000, the typical home costs more than $2 million and only one in five residents are Black or Hispanic. The project is in line to get $50 million from FEMA.
By contrast, FEMA rejected applications from places like Smithland, Ky., a town of just 240 people where the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers meet, halfway between St. Louis and Nashville. The town sought $1.4 million to build a levee along the riverbank, which has crested at flood levels three times in the past 10 years.
“That’s a lot of money for us,” said Garrett Gruber, the top elected official in Livingston County, which includes Smithland.
But he said the cost for the barrier, though large compared with the value of the houses it would protect, would be less expensive than erecting temporary barriers every time the river crests.
“If this grant doesn’t qualify, then I’m not sure what would,” Mr. Gruber added. “It’s almost as if you would rather me just evacuate the city.”
The rules that governed the first round of BRIC awards were set under the Trump administration. A senior official in the Biden administration, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name, noted that the rules for the next round of awards have been changed, giving extra points for applications that cite benefits for disadvantaged communities.
That’s part of the Biden administration’s “Justice 40” initiative, which calls for disadvantaged communities to receive the “overall benefits” of 40 percent of climate dollars, as defined and calculated by each federal agency. The initiative does not require a specific portion of climate funding be spent in underserved communities.