House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (KY-05), House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee Chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson (MO-08) today released the following statement after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) invoked an "immediate needs posture" indicating that funding for the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) has reached dangerously low levels. In addition, the DRF could be drained further with the added possibility of yet more funding needs as Hurricane Irene approaches the eastern seaboard.
Due to the low funding level reached in the DRF today, the agency is now required to fund only "immediate needs" that impact lives and public health -- otherwise these recovery activities could be interrupted indefinitely.
Currently, the FEMA's DRF has $792 million in its coffers. This level is dangerously low given the unpredictability of disasters that may occur throughout the remainder of the fiscal year. Although the House Appropriations Committee has repeatedly asked the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to address the availability and expenditure rate of disaster relief funds since January, the Executive Branch has not taken any steps to avoid this unfortunate predicament.
"Time and time again, the Administration has ignored the obvious funding needs of the Disaster Relief Fund, purposefully and irresponsibly underfunding the account and putting families and communities who have suffered from terrible disasters on the back burner. Now the Administration has let the fund reach critically low levels, putting continued recovery as risk, without a plan for the future or a clear method for dealing with new disasters such as the oncoming Hurricane Irene," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said.
Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt echoed Rogers' remarks, saying:
"Shoring up the Disaster Relief Fund by insisting in "truth in budgeting' has been a key priority for me this year, but some in Washington struggle with ensuring the DRF has adequate resources. Over 87 days have passed since the House passed the FY12 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which included $2.65 billion for FY12 on top of an additional $1 billion for FY11 for the DRF. Further, over 39 days ago, I sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano encouraging the Administration to ensure ongoing recovery efforts continue uninterrupted. However, even though the President himself said that "we are going to do everything we can to help these communities rebuild,' the rhetoric has not matched reality and the Disaster Relief Fund is running out of money."
Financial Services Subcommittee Chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson -- who hails from a disaster-stricken area of Missouri, also expressed her frustration with the inadequate level of funding:
"FEMA is running on fumes as they help those recovering from the devastating floods and tornadoes earlier this year. The House has done its job to boost FEMA's resources for ongoing recovery and future disasters, but the Senate is sitting on their hands instead of passing the Homeland Security Appropriations bill that will provide critical supplemental funding. What's more, we are in the middle of hurricane season, and with the continued threat of new disasters, we risk leaving those already affected in the lurch" Emerson said.
All three Appropriations leaders also expressed their concern for the people and communities in the path of hurricane Irene, saying, "Our thoughts and prayers are going out for the health and safety of those who will be impacted by this storm."
The House Appropriations Committee has repeatedly attempted to address the shortfall in the DRF. The recent fiscal year 2011 federal spending bill, which passed in April, included an additional $700 million above the FY10 level for the DRF -- a total of $2.65 billion. After devastating tornadoes and floods ravaged the South and Midwest, straining the DRF's already limited resources, the House passed H.R. 2017, the Fiscal Year 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which included $1 billion in emergency funding for the DRF and an additional $2.65 billion for the fund for FY12. Although it has been more than 87 days since the House approved this bill, the Senate has yet to take action on it.