U.S. Disasters Stretch from Alaska to Hawaii

Photo FEMA/Jace Anderson – August 18, 2011

By Patricia L Johnson and Richard E Walrath

FEMA funding has been a news topic for the past week due to the failure of Congress to come to an agreement on funding levels. The U.S. House vote taken on September 21 for stopgap funding failed by a vote of 195-230. This vote was to extend Federal funding until November 18, 2011 but due to a dispute over funding for disaster relief, the bill failed.

The hold-up this time around is the Republicans failure to pass a A running smoothly. Democrats want an additional $7 billion dollars added to the FEMA budget, while Republicans want the current FEMA budget reduced as well as additional cuts to offset any increased funding provided for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the spending cuts to come directly from EPA budget allocations.

If the two houses of Congress cannot come to an agreement, the government will not be funded past next Friday, September 30. It wasn’t too long ago the words “government shutdown” were being used in conjunction with the failure of Tea-Party members to agree to raising the debt limit, a political ploy that backfired by costing this country our AAA credit rating with Standard and Poor’s. Did they learn from their mistakes? Only time will tell.

In the meanwhile FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is close to running out of funds. They have $175 million in the disaster relief fund and it could reach zero by 9/27 or 9/28/2011. According to FEMA spokesperson, Rachel Racusen if the balance is allowed to reach zero, disaster recovery and assistance operations will be temporarily shut down. [according to 9/24/2011 article in The Hill]

“Under law, FEMA would be forced to temporarily shut down disaster recovery and assistance operations, including financial assistance to individuals until Congress appropriated more funds. This would include all past and current FEMA recovery operations.”

A disaster declaration is a statement sent by the Governor of a particular state and directed to the President of the United States via the local FEMA office, advising that his/her State/County requires Federal assistance in dealing with one of the following potential disasters: Chemical, dam failure, earthquake, fire or wildfire, flood, hazardous material, heat, hurricane, landslide, nuclear power plant emergency, terrorism, thunderstorm, tornado, tsunami, volcano or winter storm. Upon receipt FEMA personnel work together with the State’s emergency management agency to prepare a preliminary assessment of damages. This data is then returned to the Governor, as support, for determination as to whether or not he/she should process a request for assistance based on whether or not the damage exceeds the ability state and local resources have to pay for the damages.

The total number of disaster declarations for 2011 to date is 84. Since 1953 there have an average of 34 per year. As you can readily see, we’ll already 50 over the average of 34.

The top six states for disasters since 1953 have been: Texas, California, Oklahoma, New York, Florida and Louisiana. In 2011 Texas declared two new disasters, California – two, Oklahoma – four, New York – four, Florida – zero and Louisiana – one. What is interesting is the number of disasters that are still active in these six states, the total is 14. Two in Texas, one in California, three in Oklahoma, three in New York, none in Florida and five in Louisiana.

So what would the Republicans like to cut – would they like FEMA to stop helping out with the current wildfires in Texas or would they prefer to cut funding for Missouri?  See photo above.

The following map indicates the only two states in the United States that have not had a Disaster Declared for their state; Michigan and West Virginia in blue.   All the other states in the union have experienced some sort of disaster. All of the states in grey have had at least one MAJOR disaster declared for their state. The six states depicted with flames have not yet declared a major disaster, but all have requested fire management assistance from the Federal government.

Some states have requested both fire management assistance and have had their state declared a Major Disaster, Texas is a prime example. During 2011 alone there have been over 50 fire management assistance declarations requested for the State of Texas.

© Patricia L Johnson and Richard E Walrath

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