FEMA is down to its last $3.4 billion as Maui wildfires, Hurricane Idalia slam U.S.


Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell holds a press conference on Hurricane Ian at FEMA Headquarters on September 28, 2022 in Washington, DC.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency is running low on money to respond to natural disasters as the U.S. faces billions of dollars in damage from the catastrophic Maui wildfires and as hurricane season is just getting started with a massive storm that slammed Florida this week.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said this week that the U.S. disaster relief fund has a balance of $3.4 billion, which will be exhausted in the first half of September if Congress does not approve additional money.

President Joe Biden called on Congress Thursday to pass $12 billion in additional funding for the disaster fund next month, at the latest, when hurricane season reaches its peak.

“We’re going to need a whole hell of a lot more money to deal with all you’re taking care of,” Biden told FEMA personnel during a visit to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We need this money done. He said that we must meet this disaster relief request in September. We cannot wait. This means other recovery projects would be pushed into the next fiscal year to keep money available for the immediate response operations.

“I want to stress that while immediate needs funding will ensure we can continue to respond to disasters, It is not a permanent solution,” Criswell said during the press briefing. “Congress has to work with us in order to meet the additional request made by the administration on behalf of FEMA. Marco Rubio, Republican Senator from Florida, said that Washington knew since June that FEMA’s disaster fund is “woefully” low. CNBC Politics

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The Federal Government faces a shutdown if Congress does not pass a broader funding bill on October 1. Criswell stated this week that the shutdown will not affect FEMA’s ability to respond to the immediate needs of those in disaster areas. Criswell stated this week that an additional $12 billion will get FEMA to the end of fiscal year. The White House linked the disaster money to a request for more than $20 billion to bolster Kyiv as its counter-offensive against the Russian occupation struggles.

Rubio and Florida’s other Senator, Republican Sen. Rick Scott, have called for Congress to consider the disaster funding and Ukraine aid separately. Scott said he will introduce a bill to bolster FEMA’s disaster fund with $12.5 billion and push for an immediate vote when Congress returns from summer vacation

Scott accused the Biden administration of “playing games” by tying the FEMA funding to aid for Ukraine. Rubio said on Fox News that “no matter what anyone feels about Ukraine funding, those two things shouldn’t be one for the another. “

When Biden was in Maui earlier this year, the president pledged to assist “for as long it takes” the rebuilding of the most deadly U.S. fires in over a century. Maui’s fires destroyed Lahaina, killing at least 115. The inferno left behind $4 billion to $6 billion of damage to physical assets alone in its wake, according to an estimate by Moody’s.

Criswell told reporters on Wednesday that it would take several days to get an initial assessment of how much damage Idalia has done. The FEMA administrator had a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Florida Thursday to assess the damage. He will report to the President. Biden is set to visit Florida on Saturday.

Idalia made landfall on Florida’s Big Bend coast Wednesday morning as a catastrophic Category 3 storm, flooding coastal towns in the western part of the state. The storm weakened as it moved inland but still drenched Georgia and South Carolina.

Biden has attributed the frequency of recent natural disasters to climate change. “I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore,” the president said during remarks at the White House on Wednesday.

“Just look around — historic floods, more intense droughts, extreme heat, significant wildfires have caused significant damage like we’ve never seen before,” Biden said.

The president was asked Wednesday whether he can assure the American people that the federal government has enough disaster funding to get through hurricane season: “If I can’t do that, I’m going to point out why,” Biden responded, threatening to point the finger at Republicans in Congress.

“How can we not respond to these needs,” Biden asked rhetorically. Biden asked rhetorically, “How can we not respond to these needs?”