federal disaster funding

The tough FEMA question to ask before the election: Who pays?

Back in 2011, during a debate moderated by CNN’s John King weeks after the Joplin, Missouri tornado, Mitt Romney said this about disaster relief funding: “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” (His office released a statement backing off this stance, saying he would give the funding to the states.)

His running mate, Paul Ryan, had this line in his budget plan: “The disaster declaration is intended as a process to help state and local governments receive federal assistance when the severity and magnitude of the disaster exceeds state and local resources, and when federal assistance is absolutely necessary. When disaster-relief decisions are not made judiciously, limited resources are diverted away from communities that are truly in need.”

And here’s what we’re currently facing: A fiscal cliff that’s going to force someone’s hand, because FEMA’s set to get a $878 million haircut if we don’t find a way to get away from that cliff, according to Wonkblog. And that’s on top of limits placed on funding by the debt-ceiling deal. The need for disaster relief isn’t going down; in fact, there has been more usage of federal relief than ever under the Obama administration, according to the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, which says it’s been on the rise since the Clinton years. (Though, as any fool with a TV set and an internet connection could tell you, 2011 was a rough year for devastating storms.)

Here’s the problem we face as a country — nobody wants to see people in trouble who aren’t getting help. And the best-laid plans and most careful consideration ultimately fly out the window when the problem is IMBY (which, being a DC resident, it kinda is right now). With a hurricane within shouting distance of the country’s most-populated corridor,  Romney and Ryan’s tough talk won’t sound so tough on this topic right now, especially so close to the election. But we don’t have a lot of time to consider what we have in front of us. So, the question we gotta ask is: When it comes down to it, who will best fund disaster response in a way that’s effective and efficient, which won’t fall down on the job?

— Ernie @ ShortFormBlog