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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, May 25, 2024

Sandy prompts questions over FEMA’s future

Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast earlier this week, bringing with it massive power outages, transportation problems, billions of dollars in damage and even death. But beyond the material damage, the “super storm” has also brought to national attention funding issues for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 6 presidential election, FEMA faces certain cuts. How much, however, is still uncertain.

If re-elected, President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget includes a $1 billion cut in federal disaster relief funds, a roughly 14 percent reduction from FEMA’s $7 billion budget in the 2012 fiscal year, according to a FEMA report.

On the other hand, if Mitt Romney is elected president, FEMA’s future becomes less clear. But there are clues about how the ex-Massachusetts governor plans to approach the issue.

In a Republican primary debate last year, Romney said he would like to see states and the private sector take a bigger role in federal disaster response and he supports cuts to federal FEMA funds, but provided no further details.

As an additional clue to the future of FEMA under a Romney administration, his running mate Paul Ryan’s House budget plan includes a 22 percent cut to non-defense discretionary spending, a category under which FEMA falls. Some Democrats, however, have suggested cuts to FEMA could be as high as 40 percent.

Still, Ryan’s campaign spokesperson Brendan Buck told the Washington Post in the wake of Hurricane Sandy Tuesday, “A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period.”

Despite the ambiguity and speculation, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Don Moynihan stressed the importance of investment at the federal level to ensure proper response to disasters.

“President Obama proposes fairly incremental change to FEMA’s budget, while Gov. Romney budget proposals, while not completely clear would mean much more dramatic cuts,” Moynihan wrote in an email Wednesday. “It’s not clear how Romney would replace the capacity of FEMA, and without a credible plan, it’s reasonable to expect this would limit the ability of the federal government to fulfill its traditional role in this area.”

FEMA was widely criticized for how it handled the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but this time around the agency has been praised for its quick response.

“There is a tendency to forget about the importance of this funding until we see major disasters occur,” Moynihan said. “One thing we can be sure of, there will be more disasters, and more demand for these services.”

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