Social Policy, “Deservingness,” and Sociotemporal Marginalization: Katrina Survivors and FEMA


  • Support for the current research was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF Proposal Number: 0555113). The views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. The author thanks Ron Angel, Julie Beausoleil, Holly Bell, Catherine Connell, Laura Lein, and Christine Williams for their support


Limiting assistance in the context of the neoliberal U.S. welfare state relies on a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. Hurricane Katrina survivors were caught between two opposing cultural characterizations—”deserving” disaster victims and “undeserving” welfare cheats. In this article, I examine Hurricane Katrina survivors' experiences with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s rental assistance policies and practices, as their experiences reveal important aspects of how aid is allocated in the context of the contemporary U.S. welfare state, and what consequences this has for marginalized populations. I analyze in-depth interviews and field observations with displaced Katrina survivors and find that FEMA policies and practices assumed a “middle class” model of family structure and economic standing. Those who did not fit into this model were made to wait while their cases were investigated, which had negative psychological and material consequences. I argue that being made to wait, or temporal domination, is a central component of the larger sociotemporal marginalization of the poor, or the way in which time structures social stratification. Temporal domination is a feature of neoliberal social policy, neither maliciously intended nor entirely unintended, that has the consequence of punishing the “undeserving.”