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  • Debate over FEMA Disaster Aid: Federal vs. State and Local

    A New York Times editorial published in the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation has received a good deal of attention. The article argued that “A Big Storm Requires Big Government,” politicizing and distorting calls for reform of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A response by The Wall Street Journal, however, sought to set the debate straight.

    While the Times tried to argue that conservatives essentially want to eliminate FEMA and place disaster response solely in the hands of the states, the Journal wrote:

    This isn’t an argument for abolishing FEMA so much as it is for the traditional federalist view that the feds shouldn’t supplant state action. As it happens, the response to Hurricane Sandy has been a model of such a division of responsibility.

    Citizens in the Northeast aren’t turning on their TVs, if they have electricity, to hear Mr. Obama opine about subway flooding. They’re tuning in to hear Governor Chris Christie talk about the damage to the Jersey shore, Mayor Mike Bloomberg tell them when bus service might resume in New York City, and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy say when the state’s highways might reopen.

    The issue is not that the federal government shouldn’t have a role in disaster response. Indeed, as Heritage’s Matt Mayer explained:

    No conservative I know wants to eliminate FEMA or the federal role in disaster response and recovery. The fact is, conservatives have been consistently advocating for the decentralization of those functions for routine natural disasters to states and localities to ensure that FEMA is prepared to deal with truly catastrophic events that hit America—like Hurricane Sandy.

    In fact, the Journal actually cited Mayer on this exact point, as well as his figures documenting how federal disaster declarations have skyrocketed over the past two decades:

    [A]nnual FEMA disaster declarations have multiplied since the Clinton years and have reached a yearly average of 153 under Mr. Obama. That compares to 129.6 under George W. Bush, 89.5 under Mr. Clinton, and only 28 a year under Reagan.

    What this means is that FEMA is responding to more and more routine disasters such as tornadoes, fires, floods, snowstorms, and severe storms—with little to no regional or national impact. As a result, FEMA’s resources are getting stretched thin, making the agency ill-prepared to respond to a large-scale, catastrophic disaster. Meanwhile, state and local governments, becoming used to the federal government swooping in and picking up the check, have begun to trim their own emergency response budgets. (continues below chart)

    When a disaster like Hurricane Sandy truly overwhelms the capabilities of state and local governments, the federal government should be prepared to help. After all, the federal government can best organize and leverage national resources and call on the Defense Department and National Guard for help. But when FEMA is forced to respond to disasters on the scale of one every one-and-a-half days, it has no time to prepare.

    Federalism has long been the guiding principle for allocating responsibilities to meet the needs of citizens after disasters. Hurricane Sandy should serve as a reminder of this principle, not an opportunity to abandon it.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Debate over FEMA Disaster Aid: Federal vs. State and Local

    1. JIM says:

      The Federal government need to keep our money home, in America !!! I hear, where Mr Obama ,has built Mosque in the Middle East ,For Americans ????? hardly Think so ,,It's Time ,For a New Man To take the Reins of The Federal Government ,COMANDER in CHIEFand or States to Do away with the Feds all together ,Ayway ,Mr Obama Has lost so much clout ,credibility ,and there is wide spread abuse in his Administration ,Who would even want hin to stay another day !!!!,MITT ROMNEY AND PAUL RYAN ,NOW ,VOTE ,VOTE We must stop this flagrant abuse that exist in this present administration .

    2. Motor 2 says:

      First, the National Guard is mentioned….except for "wartime circumstances" every Natrional Guard (Air or Army) comes under the control of their respective state governor. They are there to serve their State, be it a natural disaster, riot or other need to aide, assist and protect their state's citizens and property.
      As for FEMA, they screwed up BIG TIME in LA and Katrina, did little for Topeka KN and are always "invixible" during/after some of the major forest fires in the nation. Give the federal aid monty to the STATE/S THAT NEED IT AND GET THE HELL OUT OF THEIR WAY. THEY KNOW THEIR IMMEDIATE NEED FAR BETTER THAN SOME BUREAUCRAT OUT OF WASHINGTON. Just my 2nd amendment thoughts

    3. Motor 2 says:

      Each state should manage their own “disaster response’ with the Federal gov’t staying the hell out of the way unless National Security is challenged. FEMA did not get the job done (still hasn’t) in New Orleans or Topeka afer storm damage. FEMA was non-existant in those states ( CA, AZ, MT and others) experiencing raging forest fires and loss of property. The Federal gov’t does not control each states National Guard (AIr or Army) except in the event of national emergency (war time) scenario that threatens national security. Each governor is responsible for the use of their states NG resources in the event of a state emergency. The “Feds” need to cut-off the billions of dollars in foreign aid to countries that despise us and make that money avaiiable to those states at home that need it to recover from such disasters as those now facing the Northeast. Just some of my 1st amendment thoughts.

    4. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      State aid would be great but sometimes it isn't enough.

    5. Daniel Robinson says:

      By offering flood insurance to 5.5 million people who private home insurance companies will not insure, FEMA's insurance program creates incentives for people to live in places where they are directly in harm's way. The $3B in annual premiums collected never cover the losses incurred, and don't account for the costs of rescuing people from their rooftops and providing them with food and shelter during the recovery from major events ($7B in 2010).

      In most cases, FEMA benefits wealthy homeowners who have chosen to live on the ocean with subsidized insurance at the expense of the middle-class tax base. (Katrina was a rare exception, where poor people were disproportionately affected.)

      More than a dozen hurricanes of varying intensity have hit New York over the past century. That means people who live in New York should be prepared for the occasional hurricane or flood, even if the built environment around them makes them feel like they are exempt from the rules of natural law. This was not the "storm of the century" if you examine the historical record as an insurance actuary would.

      One other point would be that people make the mistake of assuming that if the federal government stops doing something that it would never happen. FEMA's role is supposed to be coordinating the local response to such events. I’m pretty confident that if it went away, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Christie, the utilities, and the relief agencies could coordinate themselves, and would likely have been better prepared if they hadn’t been waiting for the federal government to come riding in on their white horse.

      A disaster, particularly one that occurs with predictability every 10 to 25 years, doesn’t justify big government.

    6. Jeffery Sikes says:

      Since when did the people of the United States turn to the government and turn away from the Lorg God of Israel? This FEMA is simply another government organization which moves slow and makes its priority based upon politics. People in these situations do not need politics involved in getting them back on their feet. The various religious organizations need to step up and take control of the situation before we loose more people due to winter weather.

      We as a people need to end our reliance upon government as a people, as we have seen historically, they are simply not very effective in helping those in need and they are usually motivated by politics. We need to turn to our faith based organizations and private institutions who have responded already with food and items for those in need. Government simply makes issues such as this (disasster)political. Private and faith base organizations would assist regardless of politics. If the people involved in this disaster wait upon government to respond, it's going to be a long wait.

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