We’ve been getting a lot of questions recently concerning the number of presidentially-declared disasters and whether FEMA has enough money to respond to and help communities recover from the devastation that we’ve all witnessed recently.
In fact this morning, Administrator Fugate got asked about this by CNN as he was doing live interviews from Joplin, Missouri. As he explained, disaster response and recovery is a team effort, with resources for survivors and reconstruction efforts coming from FEMA and other federal agencies, state and local governments, private insurers, volunteer and faith based organizations, and other non-governmental sources. Disaster recovery often takes months, and sometimes even years, with the efforts and costs being shared across the entire team.
CNN: “Are you worried at all about a new era of fiscal austerity in this country where we might not have the money for all of this?”
Fugate: “No. Again, this country has always come to the aid of their communities and states in disasters. We’ll do that in a responsible way. But we can’t do it by ourselves. I think the important thing here is that we have to do this as a team – state, locals, the federal government, but also the volunteers who many of the response and efforts you're seeing at a local level are being carried out by church groups and volunteers from all walks of life helping their neighbors in this time of disaster.”
To provide additional background, we thought we would provide a quick overview of our funding work. FEMA prepares for all hazards and is responsible for initiating mitigation activities, training first responders, working with state and local emergency managers, and managing the National Flood Insurance Program, among other things. As a component agency of the Department of Homeland Security, our funding is part of the overall DHS budget.
As with all federal agencies, FEMA receives a budget appropriated by Congress to support a broad variety of disaster preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation services.
As part of the annual budget, Congress also appropriates money to FEMA specifically to aid disaster survivors and communities. This pot of money, also known as the Disaster Relief Fund, funds response, recovery and mitigation activities for presidentially declared disasters all over the country and helps to pay for ongoing disaster work.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Disaster Relief Fund is not the only federal resource available to help disaster survivors and communities. For example, federal assistance can also be made available through the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Agriculture, among other agencies. FEMA works very closely with the states during the recovery process to assess the damage, offer advice on rebuilding to enhance community safety and promote greater resilience in the future, and determine how much long-term recovery projects will cost. We’re already working with our state partners affected by the recent disasters, but it’s still too early to tell how much will be needed to rebuild.
Right now we have more than $2.4 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund. This allows us to immediately respond to disasters by supporting life-saving and life-sustaining efforts, and by providing individual assistance to people who live in the designated counties included in a disaster declaration. When we encourage disaster survivors to apply for FEMA assistance, the Disaster Relief Fund is where those dollars come from. The Disaster Relief Fund also provides the dollars for longer-term recovery projects such as rebuilding schools or roads. Under law, those projects do not receive funding upfront, the way individuals do when they apply for disaster aid. Instead, for longer-term recovery projects, funds are provided to the states throughout the rebuilding process. States then allocate these funds at the local level for requested recovery projects.
During an especially tough disaster year, additional funding may be provided to replenish the Disaster Relief Fund.
As Administrator Fugate always says, FEMA is part of a larger team effort when it comes to disaster response and recovery. In addition to our federal partners, there are many other organizations and agencies that are involved in the response and recovery process that bring their resources to bear, in terms of financial resources, manpower and other support. All of these partners play a critical role in helping rebuild after disasters such as the recent tornadoes and flooding.