FEMA Disaster Programs at Risk of Major Cuts by Trump

Hurricane Marilyn, US Virgin Islands, September 25, 1995—Many people were affected by the hurricane, from elderly people to small children. Eight people died and more than $2 billion in property damage was caused by Hurricane Marilyn.

FEMA News Photo - Sep 24, 1995

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is facing reductions in funding for its most critical programs. These include reductions of several disaster response and preparedness programs and a complete elimination of funding for floodplain mapping. Taken together, the cuts would severely undermine FEMA’s effectiveness—at a time we need it to be strengthened not weakened.

FEMA is the nation's most critical agency when it comes to responding to and preparing for natural and man-made disasters, a critical function that almost every community in the United States relies upon.at some point. FEMA has also been one of the leaders for addressing how the nation will ready itself for the impacts of climate change. Because of FEMA states are starting to assess how climate change will affect the frequency and magnitude of future natural disasters.

From a climate preparedness and disaster-response perspective, the Trump administration's potential cuts are nothing short of...well, a disaster.

Trump’s looking at cutting $581 million for federal disaster response. In the wake of a federal disaster declaration, states and communities count on three types of assistance from FEMA.

  • Public Assistance Funding: Supports the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, bridges, water treatment plants, and all kinds of public buildings, facilities and infrastructure. These grants also assist with covering the costs of debris removal and cleanup efforts in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
  • Individual Assistance Funding: Enables people who have lost their homes to find temporary housing as well as provide food and shelter for their families
  • Hazard Mitigation Grants: Provides support to fix vulnerabilities that were exposed in the most recent disaster, like relocating or elevating homes that were damaged.

Cuts to these disaster response programs would leave communities in the lurch to recover in the aftermath of a flood, hurricane, or tornado. Communities would have to rely on Congress to either make special appropriations (something Congress has done in 6 of the last 10 years due to FEMA already lacking adequate funding) or go without assistance. Given that hurricane season coincides with the end of the Federal Fiscal Year, these cuts could fall particularly hard on communities hit by hurricanes, as FEMA will likely run out of funding before then.

The administration is proposing to eliminate all funding for floodplain mapping. FEMA is responsible for mapping areas of the country at the highest risk of flooding. These maps are used by all communities to make day-to-day decisions on where to allow development. They also inform the design and location of public and private buildings and infrastructure. The Trump administration justifies this proposal by stating that the maps only benefit the five million people who buy flood insurance, but the fact is that all cities, towns, and states use these maps for many different purposes. With climate change raising sea levels and increasing flooding, this tool is needed more than ever to guide development away from areas that are prone to flooding now and in the future.

Portage du Sioux, Ill., July 9, 1993—Many people were affected by the flood waters, from elderly people to small children. A total of 534 counties in nine states were declared for federal disaster aid.

FEMA Photo by Andrea Booher - Jul 08, 1993

The Trump administration also is looking at a $90 million reduction in pre-disaster preparedness funding. Through the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, communities can take steps to avoid the potential for damage and loss of life from future natural disasters. Through this already under-funded program, communities can help people move to a safer location, make water infrastructure more resilient, or help retrofit schools, hospitals, and police and fire stations so they’re safer from hurricanes and coastal storms. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in risk reduction helps us avoid four dollars in future disaster costs.

These are not the only cuts to FEMA’s disaster programs, nor are they the only cuts to agencies that are also housed within the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard and TSA are also targeted for reductions in funding that could erode the nation’s security. That makes no sense. The central job of every president of the United States is to enhance our national security. Trump should remember that as he refines his budget and sends it to Congress.

Houston, Texas, September 19, 2008—A FEMA Individual Assistance Employee gives some emotional support to a victim of Hurricane Ike at the Disaster Recovery Center on the Ellington military base. FEMA opened four DRCs in Houston today.

FEMA Photo by Greg Henshall - Sep 18, 2008

About the Authors

Rob Moore

Senior Policy Analyst, Water program
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