Senators should approach the Obama administration's $60.4 billion "emergency" funding request for Hurricane Sandy with caution. The Fiscal Year Disaster Assistance Supplemental (summary), as marked up by the Senate Appropriations Committee, is a fiscally irresponsible package that goes well beyond responding to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.
- Funding to American Samoa. On January 16, 2012, "as a result of the September 2009 tsunami," then-Secretary of Commerce John Bryson declared, "a commercial fishery failure did occur for the bottomfish fishery." The Sandy disaster bill contains "$150 million for fishery disasters declared by the Secretary of Commerce in 2012."
- Shortchanging FEMA. Okay, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund isn't being shortchanged. It still has roughly $5.4 billion in reserve. Nonetheless, just 19% of the total - or $11.5 billion - would go towards the fund. The rest goes to a myriad of other spending initiatives, as opposed to providing direct assistance to areas hard hit by Sandy.
- Community Development Block Grants. Long known for its waste and ineffectiveness, CDBG program would receive $17 billion in un-offset "emergency" spending. Of that, just 21% would be spent over the next 21 months.
- Big Business Loans. According to the summary, the $760 million for the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program will "support lending" to "businesses of all sizes suffering physical damage."
- Emergency Global Warming Mitigation. Of the $5.35 billion requested for the Corps of Engineers, just $1.838 billion - or 34% - is for "disaster recovery." The remaining $3.512 billion is for mitigation efforts, which the Obama administration request says would be used to address "impacts associated with a changing climate."
- AMTRAK Pork. Of the Department of Transportation's (DOT) $12.070 billion, less than $1 billion go towards roads. The remainder goes to mass transit, including $366 million for taxpayer-supported AMTRAK that will, among other things, be used to "increase capacity into New York City."
- Guess Work. Many of the provisions include transfer authority, but the $200 million for the National Institute of Health (NIH) is extremely suspect. The President's request acknowledges, "at this time it is too early to know exact response and recovery needs for the relevant HHS programs."
- Feds First. As outlined in the administration's request, roughly $3 billion would go toward replacing or repairing federal assets. Such requests should be debated in the upcoming budget season, not lumped in with response and recovery activities for states, localities, businesses and citizens.
- Willful Fiscal Negligence. Heritage explains that when you "remove unnecessary items from the Administration's request, and you're left with a request of $12.8 billion in supplemental funds." That's just 21% of the version approved by the Senate appropriations committee.
- No Spending Offsets. America's dire fiscal condition necessitates any additional spending be offset with spending reductions. It's easy. Really. Heritage recently identified $150 billion in annual spending reductions.
As Heritage's Matt Mayer notes, none of this is to say there is no federal role in responding to widespread disasters like Hurricane Sandy. However:
FEMA still possesses roughly $5.4 billion under the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) cap. This amount is included in the $60.4 billion request. Instead of providing $11.5 billion for the DRF as the White House requests, Congress should appropriate the $5.4 billion but tie FEMA reforms to the appropriate use of those funds.
The reality is that if FEMA had conserved its resources for events such as Hurricane Sandy, it would have even more funds available in the DRF for the response and recovery from Sandy. In less than two years, FEMA has issued 353 declarations-despite the absence of major hurricanes or earthquakes (except Hurricanes Irene and Sandy). No other two-year period even comes close to this level of activity.
Mayer goes on to suggest modifications to the Stafford Act and says Congress should reduce cost sharing for all FEMA declarations. As Congressional leaders discuss a $1 trillion tax increase, it's imperative principled lawmakers not use the crisis of Sandy as an excuse to continue the status quo of reckless spending.