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With less than $1 billion currently available for federal disaster assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is temporarily suspending payments to rebuild roads, schools and other structures destroyed during spring tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. and southern states in order to pay for damage caused by Hurricane Irene.
FEMA will still pay people eligible for individual storm assistance and some states recouping emergency response costs from previous disasters. But the agency said it will place restrictions on paying for older longer-term public rebuilding and mitigation projects in order to ensure the solvency of the federal disaster relief fund, which pays for emergency management costs and public rebuilding projects. The decision affects the spring tornadoes and disasters dating back several years and “prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster,” said FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen.
The shortfall means the Obama administration will soon request supplemental funding from Congress, likely causing another fight over federal spending as a new “supercommittee” prepares to identify trillions of dollars in government spending cuts. Already House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that any new money for FEMA will be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
"Time and time again, the [Obama] administration has ignored the obvious funding needs of the Disaster Relief Fund, purposefully and irresponsibly underfunding the account and putting families and communities who have suffered from terrible disasters on the back burner," Rogers said. "Now the administration has let the fund reach critically low levels, putting continued recovery at risk, without a plan for the future or a clear method for dealing with new disasters."