The horrific flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in South-East Texas has brought renewed attention to the federal agency that no one wants to think about until they need its assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The mission of FEMA, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is to respond to large scale disasters by overseeing the recovery in both the physical and monetary realms and coordinate an efficient response amongst the various other government agencies involved in assisting the recovery.
In practice, during a calamity like the Houston-area floods, FEMA is involved in everything from search and rescue missions to providing temporary shelter, food, and medical care to providing financial assistance and infrastructure recovery during the massive rebuilding efforts that inevitably follow such intense destruction.
So when FEMA Administrator Brock Long issues a statement like the one he made today on CBS’s Face The Nation, people should pay attention.
“I need state representatives, state legislative officials and local elected officials to listen up. This is a call. It is a wake-up call for this country for local and state elected officials to give their governors and their emergency management directors, you know, the full budgets that they need to be fully staffed, to design rainy day funds, to have your own standalone individual assistance and public assistance programs,” Long declared.
With costs associated with the Harvey recovery estimated at between $150-$180 billion, that’s the sort of prudent advice that effective government would seem to mandate as a simple no-brainer.
There’s only one problem. Both the budget plan put forth by the White House for the next year and the House Republican spending bill call for budget cuts for FEMA and other agencies involved in emergency response. Trump’s plan calls for cuts of $667 million from FEMA’s budget for state and local grants, and the House Republican plan calls for even more drastic cuts of about $876 million (or about half of the amount that Trump wants to fund the first phase of his border wall with Mexico.)
One of the programs that Trump wants to defund, the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, is designed to fund efforts to avoid disasters, given the evidence that every dollar spent on preventing the potential effects of a natural or man-made calamity saves four dollars in post-disaster spending.
Another victim in Trump’s budget proposal would be FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, which would be completely eliminated if Trump gets his way. The program offers affordable flood insurance to those who can’t get it from private insurers too risk adverse to offer such coverage and is usually the only option to homeowners in flood-prone areas.
So while FEMA Administrator Long calls for full funding for disaster preparedness, Trump and Congressional Republicans are planning to take the funds away from the very agencies that are now diligently responding to the worst catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina.
Perhaps it is telling that the FEMA administrator is directing his entreaty to state and local officials, since he’s essentially admitting that the Federal government wants to wash their hands of the responsibility to assist in the response and recovery. Long knows that it is essential to have fully funded disaster relief and mitigation efforts, the type that were enacted under the Obama administration, but he knows that the Trump administration has already gone on record with their budget plan that basically says, “Not important. We don’t need this. Let’s build a wall instead.”
Let’s hope that everyone who will be effected by this gigantic shift in priorities lets their elected officials know how they feel.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.