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Congress Has Spent $136 Billion on Disaster Relief Since 2011

When it comes to disaster relief, the United States does not have a comprehensive approach...
May 1, 2013

When it comes to disaster relief, the United States does not have a comprehensive approach. A new study finds Congress has spent at least $136 billion on disaster relief since 2011, but that spending is spread out and not coordinated.

Daniel Weiss and Jackie Weidman, the authors of the study, emphasized that no federal agency –
neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) nor the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), for example – kept accurate records of the government’s spending on disaster relief and that the information was not readily available from any source. To calculate their estimate, the authors had to examine the appropriations bills and disaster relief supplementals approved by Congress between fiscal years 2011 and 2013.

During the period, FEMA spent $55 billion on general relief and flood insurance; the Department of Agriculture spent $27 billion on crop insurance, due to the severe drought in the Midwest in 2012; and the Army Corp of Engineers spent approximately $7 billion on flood control. Figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also show that costly natural disasters have become more frequent in the last few decades. In the 2010s, the number of weather events causing at least $1 billion in damage increased to more than 10 a year, compared to an average of two a year in the 1980s.

Extreme weather events now cost the United States more than $80 billion per year, on average. And the federal government has been picking up a greater share of that tab in recent years, with states and private insurers picking up much of the rest. Often, however, the damage is simply paid for through lost economic activity — a 2010 study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) found that 30 percent of small businesses fail to reopen following a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency.

What It Means to Agents: This latest study illustrates that currently, national disaster public policy is being handled on an “ad-hoc” basis. Many parts of government have a piece of it, but no one entity is in charge. PIA favors a public-private collaborative effort in designing a catastrophe plan which involves participation by states and local governments, and emphasizes mitigation.
PIA does not support legislation to replace private insurance with government programs. PIA believes that natural catastrophe risk should be placed in the insurance market, not on taxpayers.

New Study on Disaster Spending.(Washington Post 4/29/13)
PIA Position Paper – Natural Disaster Planning

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