The current government funding battle takes the concept of sequestration to the extreme, implying only "essential government functions" will be running, but for how long? How would that affect FEMA and help survivors of natural disasters?
Take the flood-stricken state Colorado, for example. The unforeseeable floods caused over $2 billion in property damage alone. The state’s agricultural economy will see the effects of the flood increase during October, their harvesting month for corn. Corn is the state’s number one cash crop and contributes over $40 billion into their economy.
It is impossible for FEMA to help cover every cent of the losses and the partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security make it that much more difficult. FEMA’s purpose is to help with the recovery. Just because the government shut down, that should not mean FEMA stops what they are doing.
FEMA spokesperson Dan Watson, said, "FEMA remains committed to supporting disaster survivors. Our ongoing response operations, such as the individual assistance being provided to survivors of the flooding in Colorado, will not be impacted directly by a government shutdown. FEMA's response to disasters and emergencies is funded by the Disaster Relief Fund, which would not initially be affected by a funding lapse for annual appropriations."
FEMA serves an essential federal government function and just because they are busy cleaning up disasters past, their funds need to be protected for future events, even during a government shutdown. When every agency is feeling the effects of the government shutdown, an agency with the words "emergency management" or "homeland security" in their title should be spared as much as possible.
The partial shutdown affected the non-disaster grants, but the DRF is considered “no year money” and as such can be tapped until it runs dry, a possibility the longer the fiscal impasse continues. By no means does this means that FEMA is experiencing business as usual. There were cutbacks even prior to October 1.
In terms of financial support, sequestration merely cut $104 million, or 5%, from the grants that FEMA administers. FEMA’s budget was cut by $1 billion and chipped away in other important areas, such as weather forecasting centers. In a few weeks, another debt ceiling deadline will possibly catapult the entire economy into a disaster zone.
The good news is that FEMA has received a funding boom as a result of Superstorm Sandy. With Vice President Biden’s support, FEMA has no plans of cutting back support for Colorado flood victims. FEMA is still working on the recovery from Sandy and the Oklahoma hurricanes among other disasters well after the event occurred. The government shutdown may impact the FEMA personnel that are deemed as nonessential, but the funds will not be cut off.
Governor John Hickenlooper welcomed the assistance. He optimistically said, "We recognize that a lot of these bridges and roadways and culverts were built a long time ago. We have a strong opportunity here, with FEMA's partnership, to come out of this situation with a stronger infrastructure."
Ultimately, there is some good to come out of this mess. Just as the irrigation and sanitation systems will be rebuilt and replaced by newer technology, the number two cash crop, wheat, will have benefited from the rain as well as the state’s drought-stricken regions.
This is one of many examples showing how a vote in Congress forcing budget cuts can have negative effects well beyond a "simple" spending cut. The Colorado floods not only damaged the land, but families who derive their businesses from it. Congressional representatives and senators from Colorado, Oklahoma, and the dozen or so other states effected by Sandy know the impact FEMA has had on their states and realize that natural disasters should be beyond partisan politics.
FEMA is an essential government service. It is evidence that "big government" is not always bad. Natural disasters likely provide the best example of government working together on every level, from federal to local municipalities. FEMA has an essential service to help statewide agencies in times of need, and the sequestration or a government shutdown, no matter how partial, should not delay that help.