Despite the best efforts of America’s most expensive disaster in history, Hurricane Katrina didn’t bankrupt FEMA. Nonetheless, almost five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, FEMA teeters on bankruptcy due to its policy of federalizing virtually every natural disaster in America. As The Heritage Foundation has shown, the federalization of routine natural disasters began in 1993 and has yet to show down.
Specifically, in The Solution to FEMAs Budget Woes Is Not More Money and Federalizing Disasters Weakens FEMA and Hurts Americans Hit by Catastrophes, we note:
In the short span of 16 years, the yearly average of FEMA declarations has tripled from 43 under President George H. W. Bush to 89 under President Clinton to 130 under President George W. Bush. In his first year, President Barack Obama issued 108 declarations—the 12th highest in FEMA history—without the occurrence of one hurricane or other major disaster. In the first three months of 2010, President Obama has issued 32 declarations, which puts him on pace for 128 declarations for the year—the sixth most in FEMA history.
This pace degrades FEMA’s response capabilities, depletes financial resources, and encourages states and localities to divert emergency management resources to other needs, especially when budgets are hitting record deficit levels.
The Congress needs to put a brake on this federalization movement by restricting the types of natural disasters eligible for FEMA assistance. The fundamental reality is that the vast majority of FEMA disasters today were handled entirely by states and localities from 1787 to 1992. That structure made sense. Let’s save FEMA and its resources for the Hurricane Katrinas and place the burden of routine natural disasters back in the hands of states and localities.
We really can’t afford the current broken model.