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article imageTaxpayer spending on disaster relief soars with global warming

By Karen Graham     Apr 24, 2019 in Environment
In a typical year, taxpayer spending on the federal disaster relief fund is almost 10 times higher than it was three decades ago, even after adjusting for inflation, based on an analysis of federal data.
Congress is feuding over the details of an approximately $13 billion disaster aid package to help Puerto Rico and numerous states suffering from losses — due to everything from Hawaii's volcanic eruption to hurricanes, flooding in the Midwest and devastating wildfires on the west coast.
But even if Congress finally comes to an agreement and passes this year's relief package, there will be more fights in years to come. This is because taxpayer spending on the federal disaster relief fund is almost 10 times higher than it was three decades ago, based on federal government data.
This year, President Donald Trump has managed to keep a fight brewing in Congress by accusing Puerto Rico's officials of poor leadership, wasteful spending and not appreciating his administration's efforts to help, as reported by USA Today.
Hurricanes such as Harvey in Texas made the United States the country hardest hit by costly disaster...
Hurricanes such as Harvey in Texas made the United States the country hardest hit by costly disasters in 2017
MARK RALSTON, AFP/File
Democrats who control the House are, in turn, mad at Trump for being mad at Puerto Rico. Republicans who control the Senate are mad at Democrats for being mad at Trump for being mad at Puerto Rico.
In the meantime, federal disaster aid is stalled all over the country. As an example, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017. Initially, Texas was awarded $5 billion in federal disaster relief funds. According to an audit released last month by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), only $18 million has been spent, and most of the money went for “administration and planning.”
“Over a year after the first funds were appropriated, much of the money remains unspent because grantees … are still in planning phases. Also, the Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t have the review guidance and monitoring plans it needs for good grantee oversight,” the GAO said in its summary.
Hurricane Maria took down Puerto Rico's power grid  crippled cell phone communications and wrec...
Hurricane Maria took down Puerto Rico's power grid, crippled cell phone communications and wrecked water supplies
HECTOR RETAMAL, AFP/File
Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017 — leaving 4,700 people dead and the island territory without power for months.
Puerto Rico's nutrition assistance program ran out of money in March and is affecting an estimated 1.4 million people in Puerto Rico – nearly half the U.S. territory's population – including more than 300,000 children. All disaster relief funds are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and account for about 44 percent of all emergency disaster money.
We can add the funds needed to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida. As of May 1, funding will stop unless Congress acts now. Frmers and ranchers in the Southeast and Midwest are also waiting on disaster aid, as well as people in California and other states hit by wildfires.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of a risk of severe weather and to...
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of a risk of severe weather and tornadoes in parts of the Carolinas, southern Georgia and much of Florida
Brian Davidson, Getty/AFP/File
Climate change and population growth
Experts say the surge in disaster spending reflects the changes caused by global warming as well as the continued population growth in flood-prone areas. Exacerbating this spending is the nations deteriorating transportation infrastructure and lack of flood mitigation strategies.
"We're seeing a lot more extremes, both in where we're allowing people to build and in the climate," said Elizabeth Zimmerman, former associate administrator at the Office of Response and Recovery at FEMA. "You're seeing many more of these really bad disasters — the weather is intensifying — and people have really been allowed to build in places where they shouldn't."
With only one degree Celsius of warming so far  the world has seen a climate-change crescendo of dea...
With only one degree Celsius of warming so far, the world has seen a climate-change crescendo of deadly heatwaves, wild fires and floods, along with superstorms swollen by rising seas
GIFF JOHNSON, AFP
Now, these are facts, and not made up — but with global warming, the U.S. has faced more billion-dollar disasters than people realize. From 1980 through 2018, the U.S. government faced, on average, only six such events in a given year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The most recent data shows that from 2014 to 2018, the U.S. has seen an average of 13 (count them, 13) billion-dollar disasters every year.
"We keep having these very large events, at the catastrophic level, that have large spending reverberations," said Patrick Roberts, a professor at Virginia Tech who studies federal disaster responses, citing hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Maria. "There have been a series of big, extreme events in the multi-hundred-million, even billion-dollar loss category."
Climate change, the increase in extreme weather events, from tornadoes to hurricanes and flooding, is only going to escalate unless we start thinking rationally about how to mitigate the impacts. Not only is climate change affecting our very lives, but also the economic stability of the nation.
More about Disaster relief, tazpayer funded, Emergency Management Agency, Climate change, Population
 
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