Money transfer is not the problem

Right now there is a lot of fuss on social media and on some news sources about the recent revelation that President Donald Trump’s administration transferred nearly $10 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency to U.S. Immigration and Customs, expecially given the impending monestrous storm, Hurricane Florence, spinning towards North Carolina and Virginia.

Yes, it did happen. And yes, the money transferred to ICE is meant to ensure there are, among other things, enough beds for detained illegal immigrants, including the children separated from their parents. And it could be a huge deal if FEMA actually used all of its “Major Declarations” budget to help those impacted by disasters, but the money transfer isn’t as big of a deal it is being made out to be.

According to a statement issued by officials from the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, the funds were transferred from the department’s unspent operational account earmarked for training, office supplies and headquarters costs and that it would have been lost if not used by the end of the fiscal year.

FEMA is budgeted two pots of money each year. One is for the day-to-day operations and the other is for disaster aid and that amount is based on what was spent in the past decade for disaster relief.

The operational budget for FEMA for 2017 was $615 million. Its Major Declarations budget was $6.7 billion. FEMA can also carry over any unspent money from previous years.

While the transfer of the money will not affect FEMA’s ability to help those impacted by major disasters, such as the damage Florence will undoubtably wreak on the East Coast, FEMA and its multi-layered bureaucracy and waste is the actual problem.

According to, after an event is declared by the president to be an emergency or major disaster, that triggers FEMA’s ability to spend their disaster relief fund. FEMA can spend money in any combination of three categories:

∫ Individual assistance which includes housing for displaced individuals, grants for needs not covered by insurance, crisis counseling and disaster-related unemployment assistance.

∫ Public assistance which helps communities with the costs of emergency measures such as removing debris and repairing or replacing structures such as public buildings, roads, bridges, and public utilities.

∫ And FEMA funds mitigation measures to prevent or lessen the effects of a future disaster through its Hazard Mitigation Grant program.

But, because of the way FEMA determines who is eligible following a disaster, not everyone affected by it will receive disaster assistance. Once a claim is evaluated, FEMA officials determine the need and provide assistance to those who are eligible. For instance, a household with access to “alternative housing” would be ineligible for housing assistance.

Additionally, the layers of bureaucracy the aid must go through, add to the delays and misuse of funds, such as the recent news of thousands of bottles of drinking water left on pallets in Puerto Rico.

Those actual bottles of water were paid for by taxpayers’ money. People were paid to handle them and trucks used to transport them to the landing strip, where they were stacked and covered with tarps. And since officials at FEMA never followed up on those thousands of bottles of water, they sat there, unused and wasted.

Or take the millions spent following Katrina for the temporary housing trailers. Shortly after people began living in them, it was discovered the trailers had high levels of formaldehyde and were unusable.

FEMA paid millions to move those trailers to rented acreage in various places in Mississippi where they were still sitting, for as far as the eye could see, in 2012. They could still be there, and each month, FEMA paying rental fees on the property as far as we know.

In addition, even once an event is declared a disaster, the money must be funneled through a series of entities before actually being doled out to those in need. Adding to the problem is the actual criteria to receive aid is hard to find out, even from FEMA itself.

So, while some are jumping on the bandstand to denounce the transfer of the money, it is actually a drop in the bucket of FEMA’s actual budget of around $14 billion. And it is FEMA’s lack of organized foresight and misuse of the disaster budget that leads to places, like Puerto Rico, not getting the help it needs and deserves in a timely fashion.

Let’s hope Hurricane Florence turns out to be just a lot of hot air and the millions of people in its path do not need FEMA because getting through the bureaucracy sometimes can be worse than the actual disaster itself.

By Josh Bovee

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