Trump threatens FEMA funding amidst ongoing disaster recovery

Senior Leaders Seminar with FEMA. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Federal Emergency Management Administration faces millions of dollars in budget cuts on several of its flood management programs next year, even as it fights to help the affected areas recover from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

If the White House’s 2018 fiscal year budget blueprint passes, it will eliminate $667 million of state and local grant funding for FEMA. The administration said the programs they’re cutting are unauthorized or “must provide more measurable results.”

The Flood Hazard Mapping Program, under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), will lose all of its $190 million funding next year. The program maps flood-prone areas in the US by using data such as river flow, storm tides, and rainfall. The blueprint states that the map mostly benefits NFIP policyholders and communities in flooding zones, not the general taxpayers who are paying for it, and encourages state and local governments to make their maps.

The administration is eliminating FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program because the administration believes that emergency food and shelters are local governments’ responsibility. The budget plan also requires state and local governments to match 25 percent of the funding they receive from the federal government for FEMA’s programs.

For seven of the past nine years before 2017, the president’s budget plan on FEMA has always increased compared with the enacted budget from the previous year.

(Chart data from Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year Budgets)

FEMA, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, was created in 1979 to help local governments that couldn’t handle certain disasters with their limited resources. Hurricane Harvey and Irma are examples of how FEMA deals with the aftermath of serious floods.

Resources provided by FEMA

  • Residents who are affected by the disaster, besides going to local Disaster Recovery Centers, can apply for FEMA Disaster Assistance via phone or online for their food, housing, medical, financial, legal and unemployment needs.
  • FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are on the ground to address immediate needs of disaster survivors.
  • Residents can use FEMA mobile apps to receive information from National Weather Service on safety and survival tips.
  • Small business owners whose businesses suffer from the flood can register with FEMA to see if they are eligible for loans from the Small Business Administration.
  • FEMA sets up rumor control to clarify misleading information.
  • Residents who can’t return home because of the floodwaters may apply for one month of expedited rental assistance from FEMA, whose Transitional Sheltering Assistance pays for the cost to stay in certain hotels or motels for a limited period.
  • Other than using its resources, FEMA also hires temporary workers and partners with non-governmental organizations like American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

“The whole community has to come together,” William B.”Brock” Long, FEMA administrator, said on Friday at a press conference  Irma. “Multiple agencies have to work together to solve the housing issues as well as how we put the community back together.”

Budget reduction on FEMA is not the only result of Trump’s effort to reduce the federal government’s preparedness for future climate events. On Aug. 15, the president signed an executive order to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects. The order rolls back an executive order issued by President Barack Obama, which called for the government to establish a flood risk reduction standards for federally funded projects to increase the nation’s resilience against flooding.

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“These [flooding] impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats,” Obama’s executive order stated. “Losses caused by flooding affect the environment, our economic prosperity, and public health and safety, each of which affects our national security.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, is the other climate and weather-related agency that’s getting less funding from the federal government next year. NOAA faces a total of $250 million budget reduction on its research programs.

The budget will reduce marine observations that inform forecasts, warnings, and understanding of global environment patterns. The budget outline will eliminate the Tsunami warning program. Support for preparedness education, outreach, and innovation research will also cease.

NOAA’s Sea Grant program, according to the president’s budget, was going to be terminated after 50 years of working with 33 colleges and universities in the US to study the use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources. The Senate voted last Thursday to reauthorize the program and extended it through 2022.

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