Federal funding should help ensure that communities are better prepared before disaster strikes, instead of just picking up the pieces afterwards. Photo: chere/Shutterstock

4 Ways President Trump’s Budget Takes Aim at FEMA and Disaster Preparedness

, lead economist and climate policy manager | May 25, 2017, 4:34 pm EST
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This post is a part of a series on Understanding the Budget

In a recent post I explained how cuts to FEMA’s budget would make disasters more costly and harmful. The Trump administration’s full budget proposal, released earlier this week, details its plans for cuts to the agency’s funding. The damaging cuts proposed make clear that the administration is willing to put Americans at risk by shortchanging investments in disaster preparedness. Ultimately, this approach could also cost taxpayers more in the aftermath of a disaster.

Here are four ways the Trump budget hurts disaster preparedness:

1. Steep cuts to the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Grant Program

The PDM program, authorized by the Stafford Act, aims to help states, local governments, and communities implement long-term measures to reduce risks and losses from disasters. In FY17, the PDM program was allocated $100 million; this FY18 budget requests only $39 million, a reduction of nearly 61 percent. Overall, the president’s budget proposes cutting FEMA state and local grants by $767 million relative to the levels established by the omnibus FY17 spending bill, including cuts to the PDM grant program.

This program is vital to help ensure that communities are better prepared before disaster strikes, instead of just picking up the pieces afterwards. It is already seriously underfunded relative to the real need in communities (and the growing climate-driven threat of disasters). Investments in pre-disaster hazard mitigation present an opportunity to target federal aid to the highest risk areas in a cost-effective and well-thought out way.

2. Zeroing out the flood hazard mapping and risk analysis program

Our nation’s flood risk maps are in many cases seriously outdated and/or just plain unavailable and we need to invest in fixing that.

With sea levels rising and more extreme precipitation falling, and with more and more people and property located in floodplains, this information is vital to help communities, local planners, policy makers, and others be aware of flood risks and take protective actions.

This is also a wise use of taxpayer money because it can help plan for and limit the costs of future flooding disasters. A Technical Mapping Advisory Council established by Congress has provided recommendations to FEMA on how to improve flood mapping. However, Congress now needs to follow through and appropriately fund these efforts.

3. Inadequate attention to National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) reform

The budget assumptions related to the NFIP are short on details and far-fetched in magnitude. The current authorization for the NFIP is set to expire on September 30, 2017. As the reauthorization process for this valuable program moves forward, it is important for the administration to work with Congress to reform the program in a thoughtful, comprehensive way that takes account of the latest science, provides robust incentives for flood mitigation and other protective measures, and ensures equity provisions.

4. Harmful cuts to the US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) disaster relief budget

The president’s budget zeroes out the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) program, a cut of approximately $3 billion.

HUD’s role in disaster response is less well-known than FEMA’s, but it plays a very important role in helping communities get back on their feet. In particular, the CBDG-DR program is a vital source of funding to help low-income communities recover from disasters.

Recently, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina expressed “shock and disappointment” when the state was denied a significant portion of the federal funding it had requested for Hurricane Mathew recovery. The bulk of that request was for CBDG-DR funding, which took a major hit in the 2017 omnibus budget passed by Congress. Going forward, Congress and the Trump administration must ensure that all communities have equitable access to the funds they need to recover from disasters and be better prepared.

Cuts to other agency budgets proposed by the Trump administration, including to the NOAA budget, also contribute to hurting our nation’s efforts to prepare for disasters and respond in robust ways that limit harm to people and property.

Congress should reject cuts to the FEMA and HUD budgets

The Trump administration’s harmful cuts to the FEMA and HUD budgets would seriously undermine our nation’s ability to prepare for and recover from disasters, and put the safety of Americans at risk. What’s more, it’s a classic case of a “penny wise pound foolish” strategy that will actually end up costing taxpayers more in disaster assistance over the long haul.

As the appropriations process gets underway—there’s a hearing today in the Senate subcommittee on Homeland Security to review the FY18 budget request—members of Congress should keep the well-being of their constituents firmly in mind and reject the budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

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