Confronted with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and with less than a billion dollars in its reserve for emergency response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been forced to shift resources away from long-term disaster recovery efforts in places such as Tuscaloosa, Ala., Joplin, Mo., and Ringgold, Ga. — all hit by tornadoes — to make funds available for more immediate needs in the Northeast. (Aid to individuals in those tornado-stricken areas will continue; the freeze affects projects to rebuild roads, schools and other infrastructure.
So one of the first orders of business for Congress when it returns next week will probably be the appropriation of more disaster-relief aid. House Republican leaders are still insisting — if a little less loudly than before — that such increases will have to offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, to keep it deficit-neutral.
That hasn’t gone over well in some quarters.
“We don’t have time to wait for folks in Congress to figure out how they want to offset this stuff with the budget cuts,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday. “Nobody was talking about off-setting budget cuts in Joplin.”
“I would urge all my colleagues in the New Jersey delegation, doesn’t matter which party you are in, and all the rest of the folks in Congress,” Christie said. “I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first, before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.”
Curious, I sent emails Tuesday to the offices of Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, asking about the status of FEMA aid to Georgia and their stance on requiring offsets as a condition for additional disaster relief.
Here’s the response from Isakson’s office:
“”We have about 30 days until the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, which is a time when budgets always run tight. Although our country has experienced Hurricane Irene on top of the tornadoes in Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama, I am confident that the federal government will meet the needs of people, including Georgians, who were affected by tornadoes earlier this year. FEMA has always been able to manage its cash flow, and they’re managing their cash flow in this situation.”
Note the silence regarding budget offsets. I sent a followup note to Isakson’s office, again requesting the senator’s position regarding offsets. That was Tuesday afternoon. To date, no response has been received.
The exchange with Chambliss’ staff followed that same pattern. There was an initial response:
“My staff and I remain in communication with FEMA to ensure that the immediate needs of Georgians who were affected by the tornadoes this year are met. I will continue to work with the appropriate federal, state and local officials to ensure that long-term recovery and mitigation needs are addressed.”
I then followed up, asking whether the senator believed offsets should be required. No response has been received.
So your guess is as good as mine.
– Jay Bookman