Federal Funding for Disasters

Getting ready for Hurricane Irene

Image by opie0429 via Flickr

This topic is damn serious, folks. Three takes on the problem:

Washington Post article titled: How will FEMA pay for Hurricane Irene?

With less than $1 billion currently available for federal disaster assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is temporarily suspending payments to rebuild roads, schools and other structures destroyed during spring tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. and southern states in order to pay for damage caused by Hurricane Irene.

FEMA is placing restrictions on paying for longer-term repair, rebuilding and mitigation projects from previous natural disasters in order to ensure the solvency of the federal disaster relief fund, which pays for emergency management costs and public rebuilding projects, the agency said. The decision will impact the spring tornadoes and disasters dating back several years.

The move “prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster,” said FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen.

The White House is expected to declare similar disasters in other states as soon as today, further sapping money from the relief fund, which currently has about $900 million, below the $1 billion officials prefer to keep on hand.

The shortfall means the Obama administration will soon request supplemental funding from Congress, likely causing another fight over federal spending as a new “supercommittee” prepares to identify trillions of dollars in government spending cuts.
Already House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that any new money for FEMA will be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

This issue is not new.  About two weeks ago I posted an article about the need to find an alternative means of funding disasters, other than via supplemental appropriations. See my posting on August 10  re the need for an alternative.  Once again that topic comes to the fore, now that Hurricane Irene is tearing up the east coast.  See this article titled Disaster Budget Becomes Political Issue, Aug. 28.

As Hurricane Irene slams into the East Coast, the federal disaster relief agency is dangerously low on cash. And politicians are already bickering about where to get new money.  It’s been a busy year for America’s disaster agency, and that may soon spell disaster for its budget.

So far in 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has responded to  “major disasters” 65 times, among the highest in the agency’s history. The unprecedented demand has stretched the agency and its budget increasingly thin.  Craig Fugate, FEMA’s administrator, told White House reporters in May that the agency’s disaster relief fund was running low, then just above $1 billion. Without an infusion from Congress, he said, relief workers would only address immediate needs, like delivering food and water, instead of less immediate concerns like clearing felled trees and cleaning streets.

But just weeks before the worst of Hurricane Irene began to pelt Washington, D.C. and New York with heavy rain and wind, the agency’s disaster relief fund dropped below $1billion—to $792 million—nearly the lowest the fund has ever been only eight months into the year. As a result, FEMA officials on Saturday implemented what’s known as “immediate needs funding guidance,” which allows the agency to divert funds from long-term repair and rebuilding projects so it can focus on response and recovery efforts from the hurricane.

FEMA spokesperson … said that the agency had the funds to meet the immediate needs of disaster survivors. But, she said, “This strategy prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster.”

From Forbes magazine on August 30th, this article.

One thought on “Federal Funding for Disasters

  1. I cant even believe that the government would bring up lack of funds to help out hurricace Irene victims. There should never be a time that any government says there is a limit to the resources that are available for victims who have lost their homes and their lives. I am ashamed to hear the discussion even brought up from FEMA and it does not belong in the media. We should focus more on helping those in need knowing that there will be every effort made to make sure funds are always set aside for disaster relief.

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