By Carey Wedler
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has suffered from a shoddy reputation for quite some time, particularly after its failed response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As the Gulf coast recovers from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, FEMA faces further failure as its funds near depletion.
Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the agency is nearly broke and is expected to run out of money on Friday, according to a Senate aide. According to the outlet:
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which pays for the agency’s disaster response and recovery activity, had just $1.01 billion on hand. And of that, just $541 million was ‘immediately available’ for response and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey, according to a spokeswoman for FEMA who asked not to be identified by name.
The $1.01 billion in the fund Tuesday morning is less than half of the $2.14 billion that was there at 9 a.m. last Thursday morning — a spend rate of $9.3 million every hour, or about $155,000 a minute.
The Trump administration has already asked Congress for nearly $8 billion in additional funds, though Reuters noted that request may be delayed unless Congress raises the debt limit, as Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has asked it to do.
“Without raising the debt limit, I am not comfortable that we will get money to Texas this month to rebuild,” Mnuchin told Fox News.
Even the $8 billion sum is only a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated damage Harvey incurred. Texas Governor Greg Abbott expects recovery and rebuilding will cost between $150 to $180 billion.
Unsurprisingly, Brock Long, head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CBS News that state and local governments need to step up their efforts.
“People cannot depend solely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to, you know, be responsible for a majority,” he said, CBS reported Sunday. He said Texas is already serving as a good model for non-federal preparedness.
Regardless, as Hurricane Irma — deemed one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever to hit the Atlantic — strikes Puerto Rico and other islands as it approaches Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, FEMA’s prospects are not looking good. According to Elizabeth Zimmerman, who served as FEMA’s associate administrator for the office of response and recovery until January, “If it’s down to $1 billion or less, then I would say there’s a great concern.”
The crisis at the federal level should be unsurprising but can nevertheless serve as motivation for communities to come together absent government action. As the Red Cross also draws criticism for their handling of funds, those seeking to help might want to consider contributing to smaller, local organizations and directly volunteering in relief efforts.