SHAHEEN: CONGRESS NEEDS TO ACT NOW ON DISASTER AID

Without funding, New Hampshire will not get help recovering from Tropical Storm Irene

September 14, 2011

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today urged Congress to act now to provide comprehensive disaster aid, so that families, businesses, and state and local governments can get the resources needed to recover from the devastating storm and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

Shaheen joined 11 colleagues from states impacted by Hurricane Irene in a letter to Congressional leadership, and spoke today at a Capitol Hill press conference. Video of her remarks can be seen here: http://1.usa.gov/peZ3T6

“During this time of crisis, American citizens, taxpayers who have been paying their share of this government for years, deserve our help,” Shaheen said. “It’s really outrageous that partisan politics would prevent us from rallying together as a community after a natural disaster. We shouldn’t be trying to gain the upper hand in Washington. We should be trying to extend a helping hand, to those who need help in New Hampshire and across the nation.”

As of today, there is only $377 million left in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) emergency disaster relief account, and this fund will be exhausted before the end of the month unless Congress increases its funding.

Because of dwindling funds, FEMA has been forced to prioritize providing funds for immediate disaster relief, such as food and water, and has not been able to fund reconstruction efforts for older disasters, on projects such as hospitals, bridges, and sewers. Nationwide, $387 million in reconstruction projects have been on hold since August 28. Without increased FEMA funding, no New Hampshire recovery projects related to damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene can move forward.

“The storm caused sweeping damage in a variety of ways and the federal response should be comprehensive and include support from multiple programs from different agencies.  Congress has a tradition of providing comprehensive support to help states recover from natural disasters, which has included funding from various departments,” the Senators wrote in the letter.  

In addition to programs administered by Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the Senators requested that aid be provided through disaster relief programs such as Community Development Block Grants, the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief program, Economic Development Administration grants, as well as funding for the Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Small Business Administration. 

Their letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) can be viewed here and the text is copied below. 

The letter, was signed by Shaheen and U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY),  and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). 

The text of the letter is below:

September 14, 2011

 

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Inouye, and Vice Chairman Cochran:

            As Senators representing states severely impacted by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, we are writing to express support for introduction and passage of a disaster relief bill that will provide funding for FEMA and other agencies in FY 2012 and the remainder of FY 2011. 

 

Irene caused widespread pain and damage that will be felt in many different ways.  The destruction will lead to hardship and the costs will be so great that many residents will not be able to rebuild their lives on their own.  Private businesses and agriculture suffered significant losses, resulting in dramatic economic hardship for firms, farms and their employees.  In addition, Irene caused extensive damage to public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, public parks and government facilities.  Local governments are already facing tight budgets and they will need help from the federal government to rebuild their communities.  The storm not only damaged local and state infrastructure, but it also affected federal highways and the recovery will require significant resources to repair vital federal transportation infrastructure.        

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide the majority of recovery funding through the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF).  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported to Congress on September 9, 2011, that, in addition to the $1.8 billion requested in the President’s FY 2012 budget request, the DRF needs an additional $4.6 billion to address a shortfall from natural disasters, including Irene, that have hit our country.  In addition, OMB requested $500 million in FY 2011 to ensure that FEMA has adequate resources to address needs through the remainder of this fiscal year.  We support including this funding in a disaster relief bill.

 

While we are pleased that OMB submitted a request for the DRF, more funding from other programs will be required to help our residents, businesses, farms and local governments recover from Hurricane Irene.  The storm caused sweeping damage in a variety of ways and the federal response should be comprehensive and include support from multiple programs from different agencies.  Congress has a tradition of providing comprehensive support to help states recover from natural disasters, which has included funding from various departments.  

 

In 2008, following Hurricanes Ike and Gustav and widespread flooding, Congress appropriated emergency funding for the Disaster Community Development Block Grants at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Emergency Relief program at the Federal Highway Administration, the Economic Development Assistance program at the Economic Development Administration, the Emergency Conservation program and the Emergency Watershed Protection program at the Department of Agriculture, the Disaster Loans program at the Small Business Administration as well as funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   Similarly, last year, Congress passed the FY 2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill, which, in addition to the DRF, included disaster relief for Community Development Block Grants, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Economic Development Administration. 

 

In particular, Disaster Community Development Block Grants have been an asset in responding to disasters and Congress has provided emergency funding for this program 16 times since 1992, including nearly $6.5 billion for 23 states in 2008.  Also, the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief fund, which pays for the repairs to federal roads and bridges, is a valuable program but it currently faces a shortfall for addressing previous disasters and early estimates of damages caused by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene indicate a need for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional repairs.  

 

While FEMA leads the recovery efforts following most natural disasters, each of the programs listed above can provide unique and valuable support that meets the needs of specific populations and sectors of society impacted by this catastrophic event.  Therefore, we respectfully request that the Senate continue this tradition and provide substantial funding for these federal programs to appropriately respond to the widespread wreckage caused by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. 

 

In addition, we must offer support to the victims of this storm as soon as possible, and disaster relief funding should not be held hostage by demands for cuts to other valuable programs.  Therefore, in accordance with the Budget Control Act, appropriations for FY 2012 should be designated as disaster relief to allow the use of cap adjustment authority.               

 

            Thank you for considering this request.  We look forward to working with you.

 

 Sincerely,

 

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Senator John Kerry (D-MA)

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

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