FEMA Puts Funding on Hold
Written by Faith Anderson on August 30, 2011
Frustrations Mount Against Obama’s Budget Department
FEMA’s decision to temporarily shift its focus to provide aid for victims of Hurricane Irene drew significant criticism from senators in Missouri, who promised to push to get full funding restored for Joplin, where a May 22 tornado resulted in 160 fatalities and damage to 7,500 homes, and other parts of the country ravaged by disasters earlier this year. According to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, “I do, candidly, worry because folks in other parts of the country feel the world revolves around the corridor between Washington and New York City.” Lawmakers in both parties have admitted to frustrations concerning President Obama’s budget office, which has only requested $1.8 billion for the FEMA disaster fund, despite previous financial shortcomings for disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Rita, and massive flooding which severely damaged parts of Tennessee last spring.
White House Fails to Allocate More Money for Disaster Relief
Although House Republicans took steps this spring to double the amount of money allocated for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, following disastrous tornadoes which killed hundreds in Alabama and Missouri, the legislation failed to garner the favor of Democrats in Senate. While victims of the Joplin tornado and other disasters will continue to receive individual aid for things like temporary housing and debris removal, help with long-term rebuilding projects has been put on hold until Congress allocates more money. According to a provision in the recently passed debt limit and budget deal, Congress is permitted to pass several billion dollars in additional FEMA disaster aid. However, the White House has yet to ask for more money to fund disaster relief efforts across the country.
Delayed Funding May Not be All Bad
FEMA’s decision to put rebuilding on hold means tens of millions of dollars intended to rebuild four public schools destroyed by tornadoes that killed more than 200 people in Alabama, will go to immediate aid for victims of Hurricane Irene, according to Art Faulkner, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. The state was promised another $33 million to construct storm shelters and to reinforce already existing ones. However, delaying funding in favor of emergency aid may not be all bad; it means there will be money to buy items for immediate relief should any other storms wreak havoc in Alabama as hurricane season kicks off yet again.
House of Representatives Promises to “Find Money”
While advocates of the government’s relief efforts understand the importance of ensuring the relief fund isn’t prematurely depleted, they also urge government officials to “keep their promises.” As Joplin real estate agent Mary Plunkett says, “I understand there’s only so much money to go around, and other disasters to attend to. But it’s kind of hard when you’ve been told something, and then it’s changed.” As House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., says, “We will find the money if there is a need for additional money. But those monies are not unlimited and we have said we have to offset that.” Republicans controlling that chamber will likely look for spending cuts to offset new money for Irene and earlier disasters.
McCaskill notes that it has been an expensive year for disasters, five of which have resulted in $1 billion in damage each. However, officials in Missouri and other areas damaged in disasters this past spring are confident that the money will be there for them to continue long-term rebuilding, especially since damage from Hurricane Irene may fall short of original expectations. According to one private company, the hurricane caused an estimated $7 billion in damage – approximately one-fifth of the cost of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. In the meantime, residents and officials in Missouri and the South continue to hope for the funding they need to continue rebuilding areas destroyed by natural disasters earlier this year.