Impending Sequester: Impact on Disaster Relief Funding
By Ken Burris
CEO, Witt O’Brien’s
One billion dollars will be cut from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund. State preparedness grants will be cut by five percent. That is if the sequester goes into effect on its March 1, 2013 deadline.
The 2013 sequestration will initiate across the board budget cuts in an attempt to reduce the country’s deficit. This fiscal year alone, $85.4 billion will be cut from defense programs, domestic discretionary programs, Medicare, nondefense and other mandatory programs. And it will not end there. The cuts will continue for years and total approximately $1.2 trillion over the course of a decade.
What does this mean for disaster relief?
To really understand how the cuts will affect disaster relief, let’s first clarify exactly how the funding is used. When a disaster strikes, the local government is the first to respond but state and local funding can only go so far. Sometimes, disasters need federal help. If the situation receives a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Funds kick in to support response as well as long-term recovery if necessary.
This can all be very costly. Hurricane Sandy is one recent example to help gain a little perspective on this process. President Barack Obama recently signed into law a $50.7 billion recovery package for states hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. It is difficult to say whether that would be possible if the proposed cuts take effect. We do know that limited funding will force the government to prioritize and funds will most likely be restricted to aid in emergency response and emergency protective actions.
Will there be enough funding for disasters in the future?
The sequester will not completely eliminate any programs so disaster relief funding will still be available. The question is how far will the new budget go?
FEMA predicts money for disaster relief will run out before the end of the fiscal year, September 3. This is definitely a cause for concern. If flooding levels are higher than expected this spring or there is a particularly active tornado season, that money will disappear even sooner. This means that during hurricane season, which will coincide with the end of the fiscal year, we could be faced with very little disaster funding.
While running out of disaster relief funding is worrisome, there are other concerns. These cuts could have a major impact on our ability to prepare and prevent future disasters.
Why spend money to prepare for something that may never happen?
We all can understand that in times of limited funds it is difficult to justify spending now in anticipation of potential future events. But in the case of disasters, it is necessary.
Recovery spending can be very expensive. The money spent on recovering from a disaster far outweighs the cost of preparation and the cost of the initial response. As one of the most expensive aspects of disaster relief, it is something the government will look to minimize as budgets tighten.
The reality is, these cuts will leave state and local governments strapped for cash and anything that does not pose an immediate health or safety risk may be pushed to the side. Recovery may be slowed, leaving disaster areas vulnerable to further damage and prevention and preparedness programs may not receive the attention they deserve.
How do you think sequestration will impact disaster relief efforts? Do you think your local government should continue to spend on preparedness or save funding for disaster response? Please share your comments below.
Witt O’Brien’s is a global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery, committed to controlling the outcome and focused on finding solutions. Witt O’Brien’s professionals have extensive experience providing services along the entire disaster life cycle and are uniquely positioned to bring together leaders from all levels of government and private sector partners.