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Denial Leads to Neglect

January 28, 2014 -  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is charged with preparing for and responding to natural disasters anywhere in our country.  They have a staff of approximately 7,500 employees, and a budget of around $10 billion.  Because the number of disasters costing a minimum of a billion dollars has increased every year since 1980 by 5 percent, while the agency’s budget has – astonishingly – remained nearly the same over the same period of time, FEMA is struggling as never before.

For instance, in 2011 the United States suffered 14 natural disasters of the billion-dollar (or more) variety.  FEMA was forced to find the funds to deal with them by short-changing long-term rebuilding projects.  This was how the immediate fallout from Hurricane Irene was handled, so that FEMA could provide victims with food, water, and shelter.  When easterners begin to realize that their infrastructure will never be the same, if they rely on the Feds to fix it, then the full impact of growing numbers of natural disasters will finally have hit home.

The same thing happened in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy had New York City and New Jersey in its bull’s-eye.  Add to the already overwhelming burden created by just this one storm, ten more billion-dollar storms, as was the case in 2012, and the picture of FEMA staggering to its knees isn’t hard to envision.  The need to preclude this eventuality is the reason Congress has approved additional funds for FEMA’s critically important work nearly every year for the past decade.  Anytime essential work must be stopped in order for those administering the work to beg for a handout, the quality of the work suffers.  It would be better and more cost-efficient to assign the funds at the beginning of the fiscal year.

One way, in my opinion, to partially address the growing shortfall would be to eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program.  From my perspective, this is a handout for the wealthy, for it is only they who can afford property along the coast.  Why on earth should the rest of us pay to insure their property?  The program is $18 billion in debt from Hurricanes Katrina and Irene, Superstorm Sandy, and other disasters.  The coast should be protected and accessible to all Americans, not just the fortunate few.  As of today, only 5.5 million Americans – fewer than 2 percent of the population – benefit from this program.

Even if such a solution were attempted, FEMA would still need Congress to consign additional funds to its coffers, because growing numbers of disasters will necessitate FEMA’s active involvement.  It is denialist Republican Congressional leaders who stand in the way of allowing this vital agency to function as it was intended.  As FEMA continues to cut corners because it must, prepare for your country to begin to look a little ragged around the edges.

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