Relocation Of FEMA Funds To The Border Causes Concerns As Major Hurricane Heads Toward Florida

Aug 30, 2019

Floridians are bracing for a major hurricane just as funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is being directed away from disaster relief and to the southern border of the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security announced this week it will move $155 million dollars from FEMA to border security. 

Governor Ron DeSantis said on Thursday he doesn’t think the move will affect any money needed after Hurricane Dorian and that he is “confident it’s not going to affect Florida in a negative way.”

But NPR reporter Franco Ordoñez said on The Florida Roundup that there are concerns from democrats, and even former Trump officials are worried about money for future storms, including those that may happen later this hurricane season. 

Former FEMA Director Craig Fugate also joined the conversation and said the change will not affect the response to Hurricane Dorian but it will probably cause problems in dealing with funding still pending for previous disasters, including Hurricane Michael.

An excerpt follows.

TFR: You've been reporting that the Trump administration's plans to move some 271 million dollars - more than half of which comes from FEMA disaster relief funds-  is going to go now to border security efforts. Democrats in Congress are slamming this move—they're calling it irresponsible, even cruel. Could the disaster relief here in Florida, and elsewhere, be negatively affected by this big transfer of money?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the Trump administration says no, it will not. The Trump administration says the money for this year's relief is intact. This was taken from prior years.

Now, those that I've spoken with said there will probably be enough money for this storm. But there are concerns from Democrats and even some former Trump officials who I've spoken to, who are worried about later on storms, whether it's next year or even later in the season.

When it was announced this money was moving, Dorian was still a tropical storm. Now we are hurricane force so that's going to take a lot more resources than expected. So there is a lot of uncertainty here and that has got a lot of people concerned.  

FEMA provides emergency management with all kinds of natural disasters wildfires tornadoes in the Midwest earthquakes on the West Coast. Clearly we're focused on this natural disaster in this hurricane. Why did the administration make this decision now? Was there a financial need for this 155 million dollars in order to complete or continue some kind of project?

ORDOÑEZ: I don't really think the timing could be much worse. The administration seems to be articulating that it's more of a coincidence and this has been in the works for a while. The Trump administration has been going back and forth with Congress for months now trying to get more money for border issues. You remember the big fight just a few weeks ago about humanitarian needs money on the border.

Now they are saying that there has been a influx of more migrants, particularly single adults, who are filling up detention centers. So they have ran out of beds and they need the money to get these beds which has caused some of the difficult conditions in these facilities that we were hearing about just a few weeks ago.

The fact that this storm is going on now, I don't know. I wouldn't say that caught them by surprise but I certainly don't think if they knew this was coming at this time it would probably been rolled out a little differently.

Republicans who've been defending the White House's move on this say that this kind of shifting around of funds is not unusual. What about that historically adminission from both parties have done this kind of thing? Is that true?

ORDOÑEZ: It is true. This kind of money is moved around between administrations. The Obama administration did it as well.

The Congress has given the president the authority to use certain funds in his discretion, to move them around to the priorities that he has. But there is concern about this because not only is President Trump administration pulling from FEMA, he's also as you noted pulling from other areas - from TSA, from cybersecurity from Coast Guard. And there is some concern about that maybe there's too much of a focus on immigration at the detriment of other areas. But this has happened in the past and it will likely continue to happen. But what is this really how far is this going to go.  

Craig Fugate,  you've been at the meetings when these things are discussed. What are your thoughts on the timing of this and the amount of money as well as the rationale that's been provided?

FUGATE: There's nothing subtle about this administration and they should have known they were going into peak hurricane season. But what they're doing will not affect the response to Dorian. The big problem is it's going to affect all of the open disasters.

FEMA will have to watch their balances very closely. If Dorian requires a lot of funds they're going to have to make decisions about stopping work on older disasters.

Would that include Hurricane Michael?

FUGATE: Yes. So they’ll go into what they call immediate needs funding if they need a lot more resources for response Dorian. And then the administration's gamble, which pretty much everybody does this, is that Congress will fund the money back for disasters.

So this this goes back to the original authority that Homeland Security had when it created the transfer these dollars and quite honestly if Congress doesn't like it they should take that transfer authority away from these of these disaster funds.