Napolitano Concerned about Disaster Relief Fund: “We Do Not Have Enough Money”

Sep 15, 2011 5:00pm

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano expressed  frustration Thursday that Congress has not moved swiftly enough to pass a supplemental funding bill for FEMA in this year of wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes.

“The fight we’re in now is to get money for the disaster relief fund. We do not have enough money — given the number of disasters we’ve had this year — to finish the fiscal year, and to do all the things we have to do.” Napolitano said Thursday at the Aspen Institute.

“I had to have a meeting with my FEMA director about things we will have to stop in places around the United States, unless Congress signals that they’re ready to put a supplemental into the Disaster Relief Fund,” Napolitano said.

There are competing packages in the Senate and House about how much extra money should be provided to FEMA and the agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. The White House has said that Hurricane Irene will cost $1.5 billion through 2012.  The Office of Management and Budget has said there is an additional $5.2 billion needed for non-Hurricane Irene disaster needs.

“It means existing joint field offices in disaster areas around the country, where we’re doing recovery,” Napolitano said of the implications of the budget crunch and what services may cease without the funding. “It means public assistance for things like rebuilding fire stations and schools that were destroyed in the tornadoes in the spring and the flooding in the spring, and what we’ve seen recently. It may even mean going back as far as some of the investments that we made to repair Katrina.”

According to DHS officials the Disaster Relief Fund currently stands at $351 million. After Hurricane Irene and deadly spring tornadoes and severe flooding in the Dakotas the Fund has been strained. In recent weeks the Fund has dropped almost $450 million. DHS officials said that on August 30, the fund stood at just under $800 million.

FEMA had to place funding restrictions on longer-term repair, rebuilding projects from previous and current disasters because the fund had dropped below $1 billion.  FEMA officials say that when the Disaster Relief Fund has been under $1 Billion they have used a funding method called “Immediate Needs Funding,” which prioritizes the immediate needs of disaster survivors, states, and communities during disasters, so that FEMA can continue its focus on response and urgent recovery efforts without any interruption.

“The survivors that are eligible for assistance are still getting funds. Individual assistance programs were not affected by this, nor was any protective measures, or any debris clearance or any project that had already been approved,” said FEMA Director Craig Fugate said at a White House briefing on August 29, 2011 after Irene had passed up the East Coast.

“The only thing that we have postponed is new projects that are permanent work that had not been started when we go into immediate needs funding. And that is to ensure that we still have funds to do this response, continue to meet the needs of the survivors of the previous disasters, while supporting the initial response to Hurricane Irene,” he said.

Similar funding limitations went into effect in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2010.

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