Disaster Aid and Vital Investments Aren't Mutually Exclusive
Providing emergency aid shouldn't have to mean cutting vital investments
May 23, 2013
Our prayers are with the people of Moore and other Oklahomans after this tragic storm. President Barack Obama promised that "Oklahomans … would have all the resources that they need at their disposal" to help them restore their communities. With damages in excess of $1 billion, federal aid is essential rebuilding these devastated communities.
Less than 24 hours after the blasting winds died down, some elected officials proposed that we offset any disaster assistance by an equal amount of budget cuts. It is unfortunate that some chose to politicize this tragedy before the dust literally settled. Additionally, it would be cruel and painful to make aid to Oklahomans contingent upon cuts in cancer research, student loans, Meals on Wheels or other middle class investments. This "robbing Peter to pay Paul" approach to federal disaster aid would help families harmed by this terrible tornado while hurting middle class families elsewhere.
Sadly, the politicization of disaster relief has become more common in Congress. Earlier this year, the vast majority of Senate and House Republicans voted against the $50 billion disaster relief and recovery package for the people and businesses harmed by Superstorm Sandy.
The Sandy aid was part of the $136 billion in federal spending for disaster relief and recovery in fiscal years 2011-2013, according to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress. This equals about $400 per household per year. This spending reflects a plague of extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012, with the 25 most destructive events taking 1,100 lives and causing $188 billion in damages. The National Climate Assessment draft warns that we face more disaster damages from storms, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires if climate change continues unchecked.
In addition to reducing pollution responsible for climate change, we can and must help make our communities more resilient to these future extreme weather events. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that every $1 invested in such efforts reduces damages by $4. The federal government can save money while protecting lives and property by assisting communities minimize future extreme weather damages. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., proposed creating a dedicated stream of revenue to help municipalities undertake such efforts, which Obama should support.
Speaking Tuesday, Obama said that "Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need." This should begin with federal disaster and recovery aid that isn't paid for by cutting other vital investments.