Sequester Takes Toll on Disaster Relief

Sequester Takes Toll on Disaster Relief

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President Obama pledged Tuesday to provide tornado-devastated Moore, Oklahoma, with as much federal assistance as is necessary. But because of the sequester, recent budget cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government programs could cause problems in the weeks and months ahead.

The sequester chopped FEMA’s disaster relief budget by $1 billion this year, and cut another $1.9 billion from transportation repair funding. It also cut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- the agency that runs the National Hurricane center and the National Weather Service- by seven percent.

While testifying before Congress in March, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said he was concerned there wouldn’t be enough money available to help state and local governments that help rebuild damaged infrastructure.

Fugate said FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund would pay out a total of $10.8 billion to victims of the Super storm Sandy that slammed the East Coast last October. That leaves just about $2.5 billion in disaster fund for the rest of the year, which could be a problem if we run up against another bad tornado and hurricane season    -Read more at GovExec

DISASTER RELIEF POLITICS     Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a prominent deficit hawk, clearly wants federal financial aid for the hard-hit victims of his home state of Oklahoma, but is insisting that the funds be offset by cutting the budget in other areas.  Coburn is trying to be consistent: he has urged offsets for other extraordinary FEMA relief efforts. But it is tricky for a lawmaker to make a demand like that when his or her home state has just been clobbered by a natural disaster. And it’s hard to anticipate how disaster relief politics will play out, as the Republicans learned to their regret late last year. 

Case in point: Just when the GOP thought Mitt Romney could beat President Obama last fall, super storm Sandy tore through the East Coast shortly  before the  November The Fiscal Times’ David Francis writes, “a forceful response by the president and a glowing endorsement from New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie removed politics from the national conversation while making Republicans look petty at a time of national unity…Fast-forward to this week. Obama is punch drunk from three scandals and is vulnerable to attacks from the right. But as Sandy illustrated, politicizing natural disasters doesn’t play with the public. Typical Washington tit-for-tat is unlikely to resonate with the public at a time when bodies are still being pulled the debris of an Oklahoma neighborhood devastated by Mother Nature.”  -  Read more at The Fiscal Times

BERNANKE: STIMULUS STILL NEEDED Despite the improving job market, federal stimulus efforts are still needed to avoid crippling the recovery, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers at the Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday. “A premature tightening of monetary policy could lead interest rates to rise temporarily but also would carry a substantial risk of slowing or ending the economic recovery,” Bernanke said in prepared testimony. - Read Bernanke’s full testimony here

ROUND THREE IN IRS TEA PARTY SCANDAL     Internal Revenue Service officials returned to Capitol Hill this morning for the third time in the past week to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concerning the agency’s actions in excessively targeting Tea Party groups. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George and former IRS commissioner Doug Shulman were joined by IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner, as well as Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin. As expected, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions.  -  Read more at The Fiscal Times

SENATE PANEL APPROVES IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL    After five days of debate over hundreds of amendments, the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday approved a sweeping immigration reform bill on Tuesday that would provide a path to citizenship for up to 11 million illegal immigrants. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 13 to 5, with three Republicans joining   10 Democrats. The legislation would raise the annual limit of high-tech   (H-1B) visas that are issued from 65,000 to as many as 180,000. It also includes increased spending to tighten border control. The Congressional Budget Office will take two weeks to analyze the bill and project its long term cost. The bill, largely reflecting the work of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” is expected to reach the Senate floor around June 10. -  Read more at The Washington Post

FORT HOOD SHOOTER STILL ON U.S. PAYROLL   Nidal Hasan, the accused Fort Hood shooter who allegedly killed 13 and injured 32 people in 2009 at an Army base in Texas, continues to receive his Army psychiatrist salary, so far totaling $278,000 as he awaits trial. Under the Military Code of Justice, his salary cannot be suspended unless he is proven guilty. -  Read more at NBC.

Brianna Ehley is the former Washington Correspondent for The Fiscal Times. She is currently a reporter on Politico's health care team in Washington, D.C.