As the East Coast braces for a massive storm, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are trying to cover up the fact that if elected they intend to cut funding for both FEMA and disaster relief.
Here is something to think about while we watch Hurricane Sandy morph into a perfect storm, what if there was no federal disaster relief? What if states were left to fend for themselves?
These questions may sound absurd right now, but they won’t be if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are elected next Tuesday. In June 2011, Romney went on the record as opposing federal disaster relief, “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. [...] We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.” Romney also wants to privatize the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
However, Romney is the picture of moderation compared to his running mate Paul Ryan. Ryan’s budget calls for every cent in disaster relief to be offset by cuts in discretionary spending. The programs that are considered discretionary spending include things like veterans’ benefits and the VA, federal aid to local school districts, the FBI, the DEA, the entire federal prison system, the FDA, the National Institute of Health, and the Coast Guard. (If Republicans have their way, veterans will go without, our food could be less safe, and the National Institute of Health would less prepared for a health emergency because a natural disaster struck, and any federal spending must be offset. Thus, a severe natural disaster could have a long term impact on the nation beyond cleaning up and rebuilding.)
Romney believes that the money for disaster relief should be given to the states in the form of block grants. The thing about a block grant is that it comes with no mandates, or strings attached. The federal government would give each state a lump sum for disaster relief, and it would be up to the individual states to determine how it would be spent. They don’t have to spend it on disaster relief. They could use the money to balance their budgets or cut taxes for the wealthy. The quality of a state’s disaster relief would be completely dependent on the priorities of the governor and the legislature.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the difference between now and under Romney would be stark, “States and local areas hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and tornadoes often seek help from the federal government. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, at a governor’s request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps people affected by the disaster get food, water, and shelter, and can help with search-and-rescue missions and providing electric power. FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured. This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times. Federal discretionary funds also help states, cities, and other local governments hire police officers. Big cuts in funds to hire police officers would shift more of the cost of hiring these officers to state and local budgets.”
Even before a natural disaster strikes, Romney and Ryan plan to slash federal disaster relief funding by 80%. This means that states will get a block grant for 20% of the federal aid that they are used to counting on for disaster relief.
The real world consequence of this type of policy decision will mean that your ability to survive or recover from a natural disaster will be based on where you live, the severity of the event, and whether or not your state decided to budget for disaster relief. The federal government won’t be there to help, because FEMA will have been privatized. Thus the private companies handling disaster relief will be afraid of cutting into their profit margin, so they will avoid disasters that are too expensive, and will generally do disaster relief on the cheap. If the federal government does step in, the cost of federal aid will have to be offset by cutting things like veterans’ benefits and the VA.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don’t believe in federal disaster relief. Even though the states are already lining up for federal aid because they don’t have the resources to handle disaster relief, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are planning on letting them fend for themselves.
Romney and Ryan will probably have a lot to say about this week’s storm, but don’t expect any of it to include how if elected they intend to gut disaster relief and privatize FEMA.