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Before Harvey, Congress planned $876 million cut in FEMA disaster relief funds

Published: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 5:40 PM

If Hurricane Harvey had not ravaged the Gulf Coast of Texas in recent days, not many people might have noticed one detail in a proposed spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that was set for a vote after Labor Day in the U.S. House, which would have shifted $876 million in unused disaster relief money out of the budget for FEMA.

But now that the Federal Emergency Management Administration may need billions for disaster relief programs to deal with the damage from Harvey, that proposed cut may get reversed, as lawmakers get ready to not only fund the government for next year, but also approve a measure targeted at disaster relief along the Gulf Coast.

"My Committee stands at the ready to provide any necessary additional funding for relief and recovery," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and would be in charge of any funding bill dealing with the aftermath of Harvey.

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"We are awaiting requests from federal agencies who are on the ground, and will not hesitate to take quick action once an official request is sent," Frelinghuysen added in a statement.

The FEMA disaster money wasn't going to be cut for savings - but would rather be "rescinded" - and then diverted to the broader homeland security funding measure. One could argue that it would help offset about half of the cost of President Trump's plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Other than that effort to shift unused disaster money out of the FEMA, the GOP spending bill actually was friendlier to disaster relief programs than the President's proposed budget on a number of fronts:

+ The House bill would spend $177 million on flood hazard mapping and risk analysis efforts - President Trump proposed to zero out that line item. "Accurate flood mapping data is the foundation of ensuring that communities are resilient in the face of disaster," the bill's report states.

+ The House GOP bill would spend $100 million on the "National Predisaster Mitigation Fund," which is basically an effort to get communities to do work to deal with flood before they happen; the Trump budget proposed $39 billion for that fund.

+ The DHS spending bill would fund "Federal Assistance" $3 billion in grants from FEMA that help local jurisdictions undergo training and exercises to deal with the response to natural disasters. The Trump budget proposed $2 billion.

Overall, the GOP spending plan for FEMA pushes back against President Trump's proposed cut for the agency; the House would spend $11.4 billion on FEMA, while President Trump proposed $10.5 billion.

But now, with the damage totals certain to rise from Harvey - the details of this FEMA budget seem certain to change; Congress returns to work next Tuesday, September 5.

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