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The rest of the FEMA funding story

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Column by Jim Flynn

Washington bureaucrats and politicians turn on their innocence and righteousness when facts get fuzzy. A recent example was the go-round between the House and Senate over additional funding for FEMA - the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Democrats in the Senate viewed more money for FEMA as an opportunity to affirm their righteous commitment to unlimited spending and vote gathering. They suggested an additional $7 billion for FEMA.
To demonstrate their unwavering commitment to frugality, House Republicans suggested $3.7 billion of additional funding for FEMA, with a clause requiring an offset of $1.6 billion of cuts from green energy spending.
Verbal salvos were exchanged between the chambers, the best of which came from the Senate Democrats in a few words of feigned innocence: “We’ve never had to do it this way before.” Bunkum! They’ve transferred funds from other sources to FEMA on several occasions.
After weeks of Democratic campaigning and liberal editorials pleading “FEMA needs help,” a sudden resolution of the disagreement was discovered in unspent FEMA accounts. Funds would not run out on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday. They would last through Friday, the last day of the fiscal year, provided another disaster didn’t happen on Thursday.
FEMA has had a busy year – hurricane Irene, tropical storm Lee, wildfires, tornadoes, and some tremors. The total number of assistance declarations for 2011 is not yet complete.
FEMA assistance declarations have increased dramatically over the past 15 years – 43 under the first President Bush, 89 during the Clinton administration, 130 by the second President Bush, and 108 in the first year of President Obama, a year in which there were no hurricanes or other major disasters.
Qualification for a federal assistance means a disaster of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state or local government. However, the tests applied have been so lowered that some states qualify for assistance if estimated damages are likely to exceed only a million dollars – more like a damaged sewer pipe than a flood.
Applications for disaster declarations have become an avenue for shifting state obligations onto federal taxpayers. Some states seldom call on FEMA for assistance, while others are regular customers. More money spent on minor occurrences which states could and should handle themselves means less money available when real disasters occur.
In the shadows behind the liberalization of what does or does not qualify as a disaster are Congressional and White House politicians who find it difficult to say “no” to puddle-disasters.
Disaster politics is growing another federal welfare agency, which has accumulated its own deficit of several billion dollars owed to state and local governments for real disasters of the past. And that’s the rest of the story.