Disaster fundTornadoes will not deplete FEMA disaster fund

Published 14 March 2012

The latest series of tornadoes that raged across the Midwest and South will not deplete the U.S. disaster fund, which was only recently reloaded by Congress last year, officials said

The latest series of tornadoes that raged across the Midwest and South will not depletethe U.S. disaster fund, which was only recently reloaded by Congress last year, officials said.

An unnamed Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) official speaking to Reuters said the agency’s Disaster Relief Fund has about $3.7 billion in it thanks to additional assistance from Congress after the series of major natural disasters across the country resulted in roughly $13 billion of disaster spending last year.

Over the last decade the number of major disasters each year has risen steadily, draining the Disaster Relief Fund. Last year, as a result of massive flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, a record tornado season, and Hurricanes pummeling the East Coast a record ninety-nine major disaster declarations were made, shattering the previous record of eight-one set in 2010.

Trina Sheets, the executive director of the National Emergency Management Association in Lexington, Kentucky, told Reuters that the number of major disasters is on the rise.

You’re seeing 100-year floods become 50-year floods. And it’s across the board in terms of what types of disasters you’re seeing. What we’re seeing is that the frequency and severity of those events is increasing,” Sheets said.

Last year nearly $13 billion was spent from the Disaster Relief Fund, and before Hurricane Irene had even hit the United States only $1 billion was left in the coffers and FEMA predicted the fund would become insolvent.

Given the current fiscal climate on the Hill, lawmakers bickered over how to allocate additional funds to FEMA as they struggled to cut budgets elsewhere. With a government shutdown pending last September, lawmakers finally agreed to allocate emergency funds so the agency could resume suspended recover projects.

The Disaster Relief Fund is currently budgeted at $7.1 billion for the current fiscal year, but will be lowered to $6.1 billion under the White House’s current budget proposal for 2013. According to the proposal, other disasters can be covered by emergency funding.

In addition, Richard Serino, FEMA’s deputy administrator, said the FEMA budget also keeps $500 million in reserve to prevent the disaster fund “from falling to the dangerously low level that it did during September.”

So far there have already been six major disaster declarations in 2012 with latest due to flooding and landslides in Oregon and Washington.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Kentucky was the first state hit by tornadoes to request the President to make a major disaster declaration for the area. Tornadoes throughout the region killed at least thirty-nine people – twenty-one of them in Kentucky.

In an interview with Reuters, Mark Merritt, the president of Witt Associates, a disaster consulting firm, explained that the disaster fund would not be hit too hard by the tornadoes as aid allocations will likely be relatively low as most of the property damage will be covered by insurance. In addition, damage to infrastructure is also light compared to hurricanes and earthquakes.