Hurricane Sandy's destruction in the Northeast days before the 2012 elections has brought to the fore the question of the federal government's role in disaster relief. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, assists local and state authorities in dealing with natural disasters and other catastrophes, providing both financial and organizational support. However some conservatives have argued that FEMA has become weighed down by bureaucratic inefficiency and ineffectiveness, and that its operations would better implemented if handed over to state and local governments. Furthermore, they say with national debt ballooning, it is time to make tough choices and cut FEMA spending. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggested he would support such a measure when asked in a June 2011 primary debate if disaster relief should be shifted to the states:
"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better."
Since Hurricane Sandy hit, the Romney campaign has been walking back his comment. Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul told U.S. News that she has "never heard anyone" propose devolving FEMA's responsibilities back to the states.. She added:
"That's not what Gov. Romney has proposed and it would be inaccurate to report as much. Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions. As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA."
This in fact describes the current FEMA process, with governors declaring a state of emergency and formally requesting FEMA aid. Nevertheless, conservatives continue to argue that federal relief efforts be shifted to state governments.
Should FEMA's responsibilities be handed over to the states? Here's the Debate Club's take:
Steven Horwitz Mercatus Center Senior Affiliated Scholar
Tad DeHaven Budget Analyst at Cato
Matt Mayer Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
John Hudak Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution