Tornado Damage Will Not Dent Replenished U.S. Disaster Fund
The rash of devastating tornadoes early in the season across the Midwest and South will not deplete the U.S. disaster fund which was replenished by Congress last year, officials said on Monday.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund now has about $3.7 billion, a FEMA source said on Monday, after nearly being emptied last year with some $13 billion in spending.
Kentucky on Sunday was the first state hit by the tornadoes to ask President Barack Obama to tap the fund for help in rebuilding after storms that killed at least 39 people, 21 of them in Kentucky.
The Disaster Relief Fund has been heavily drawn down over the last decade as the number of disasters and emergencies has climbed, according to Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association in Lexington, Kentucky.
Since 2001 the United States has been pummeled by monster hurricanes, devastating tornadoes, the attacks of September 11, 2011, and record flooding year after year in the Midwest, she said.
“You’re seeing 100-year floods become 50-year floods. And it’s across the board in terms of what types of disasters you’re seeing. What we’re seeing is that the frequency and severity of those events is increasing,” Sheets said.
The Disaster Relief Fund spent almost $13 billion last year and at one point fell to $1 billion even before Hurricane Irene hit the eastern U.S. and FEMA predicted the fund could become insolvent.
The fighting over whether to offset extra money for FEMA with budget cuts elsewhere nearly led to a government shutdown in September. FEMA got more money on October 1 and resumed paying for suspended projects.
Last year was a record for major disaster declarations, with 99. That number broke the record of 81 set in 2010, according to FEMA.