Change in FEMA guidelines could help Gullah Geechee community

Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 3:39 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, Sc. (WTOC) - Over the last few decades, it’s been difficult for many Gullah Geechee people to be get help from the federal government following natural disasters.

Until recently, FEMA required documentation like a deed or title to prove residency causing problems for those whose land goes back generations but without much paperwork being filed.

“This has a huge impact on Gullah Geechee populations from North Carolina to north of Jacksonville,” said Meldon Hollis, a retired emergency management professor.

At a community meeting Monday, the former emergency management professor explained a change in FEMA guidelines that’ll allow the native island community to sleep better during summer storms.

“There’s a lot of things we don’t know especially in the times of a disaster. We don’t know where to begin, we don’t know where to start,” said Chairman Lavon Stevens with the Gullah Geechee Land and Cultural Preservation Task Force.

Instead of needing a deed or title to their homes, FEMA is now accepting alternative paperwork to recognize land ownership like tax receipts, bills, or addressed mail from the government.

”We may not all have the documents readily available, but if it’s as simple as a utility bill or something like that then that makes it a lot easier.”

Thanks to the easier path to proving ownership, Hollis wants native islanders to know an initial rejection to an insurance claim will now be easier to overturn.

“The sort of social environment now is you get the letter, it’s a rejection so you know... nobody else in the neighborhood got any help so you just say well that’s the end of it.”

Stevens says getting the word out to change that attitude is his biggest takeaway from this FEMA switch. Both leaders want generational homeowners to know a claim rejection will likely just require more information since the system won’t be used to handling the specific challenges of traditional Gullah land documents.

The town of Hilton Head will have this information available on their website to help people as well.