WASHINGTON – In a letter to President Barack Obama, United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today joined 13 Senate colleagues to once again press the administration to address the shortfall in the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF).
Based on the latest estimates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the DRF is expected to be exhausted in June, at the beginning of the hurricane season. A minimum of $1.565 billion is needed just to meet the costs of eligible projects for the balance of this fiscal year. This shortfall is largely the result of past catastrophic and major disasters, such as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, the Midwest floods of 2008, and the Tennessee floods of 2010.
“There are currently 49 States that are recovering from major disasters that you have declared under the Robert T. Stafford Act,” Sen. Landrieu wrote.” All of these recovery efforts would be put on hold if FEMA is forced to stop disaster payments. Last year, FEMA was forced to stop such payments for five months, delaying recovery and increasing costs across the nation. We should not allow history to repeat itself.
“Further complicating this funding problem is the imminent onset of the flood season. The National Weather Service is projecting that the country is at risk of, ‘moderate to major flooding this spring,’ particularly in the Midwest. The tragic events in Japan have reminded us of the potential consequences of a catastrophic disaster. In responding to a catastrophic disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, the current Disaster Relief Fund balance would be exhausted in three days.”
Last year, FEMA was forced to institute a budget freeze due to the DRF being underfunded. This freeze caused rebuilding and mitigation projects all over the country to be delayed for five months. Without the emergency supplemental, it is expected that FEMA will stop making payments in early May.
In February, Sen. Landrieu sent a letter to President Obama asking him to make an emergency supplemental budget request of at least $1.65 billion for the DRF.
Sen. Landrieu, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, reiterated her concerns during a hearing today on disaster preparedness, where she pressed FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on the issue.
“I am very concerned about the current shortfall in the Disaster Relief Fund.,” Sen. Landrieu said. “FEMA is projected to run out of money more than three months before the end of the fiscal year, at the very beginning of hurricane season. I wrote to President Obama over a month ago, asking that he send a supplemental funding request to Congress to plug the $1.6 billion gap, but he has not taken any action. Two weeks ago, Secretary Napolitano testified before my subcommittee that a supplemental was necessary, but we continue to wait.”