In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating rush on the East Coast, which is estimated to cost upwards of $20 billion, January’s sequester budget cuts have sparked a political hailstorm, as November’s two presidential candidates spar over federal funding for disaster relief. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that coordinates federal responses to disasters, says it has enough money to finance the initial response to Hurricane Sandy, but that pending budget cuts could severely threaten future disaster relief.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate acknowledged this week that the agency has $3.6 billion to contribute to Sandy’s disaster relief, although it’s too early to determine how much additional funding will be distributed when the total bill for the storm is calculated. Fugate’s disclosure contrasts with the financial impact of the 2011 Hurricane Irene catastrophe, which forced the agency to shelve some payments attributed to previous disasters in order to cover the funding gap.
According to an estimate the White House released last month, if congressional lawmakers fail to evade the looming sequester, FEMA would endure an $878-million budget cut. Both Democrats and Republicans are now highlighting the across-the-board cuts, using Hurricane Sandy as a scapegoat for maintaining current spending measures. Some Democrats have already attacked Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for advocating a shift of disaster relief funding to the states, Fox News reports:
The GOP has already done its best to tie Obama to the sequester, despite the fact that Republicans in Congress voted for the measure. For their part, Democrats have are seizing on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy to use Romney's past words against him in a bid to suggest he's in favor of shifting the burden to the states. In a Republican primary debate last year, the former Massachusetts governor said states should have more control over disaster relief, including the possibility of private-sector involvement.
The left is also taking aim at Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, whose budget proposal doesn't specifically mention disaster relief but includes considerable cuts to domestic discretionary spending.
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