News & Politics

Mitt Romney's Terrifying Plans for FEMA and Disaster Relief

If Hurricane Sandy was bearing down under a Romney-Ryan presidency, the scale of federal help would be radically different.

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As Hurricane Sandy bears down hard on the East Coast, the federal government has begun to take steps to deal with any fall out the super-storm might bring. President Barack Obama has signed a number of federal emergency declarations for states like Connecticut and New York, which allows states to qualify for immediate aid for the costs of evacuation and other services.

But this system of federal involvement to mitigate the damage from natural disasters would be threatened under a Mitt Romney presidency. Romney and his vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, have promised to fundamentally transform how federal disaster aid would work. If Hurricane Sandy was bearing down under a Romney-Ryan presidency, the scale of federal help would be radically different.

At a CNN debate last year during the Republican primary, Romney was asked by moderator John King about federal disaster relief. Romney responded by saying, “every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction.” Romney also added that “if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better.” As Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy notes, this plan would “diminish the [Federal Emergency Management Agency’s] role and leave responsibility for helping imperiled Americans to the states.”

But it’s not only the candidate’s words that indicate how a Romney presidency would deal with disasters like Hurricane Sandy. The Romney-Ryan plan on paper sounds just as bad.

As Mother Jones reported last August, the Ryan budget plan would impede “FEMA's ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters.” How, exactly? According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Ryan budget means that “the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.”

“FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times."

Both Romney and Ryan have also “publicly demanded that the federal government only disburse disaster relief funding if Congress agreed to offsetting budget cuts elsewhere,” as Think Progress notes.“This would hold desperately-needed disaster relief funding hostage unless Congress agreed to cuts elsewhere in the budget, an extraordinarily difficult prospect even in normal circumstances.” Think Progress also reports that this position is a long-standing one for Ryan.

“Long before he entered the political limelight, Ryan was still pushing a similar line on disaster funding. In a March 23, 2004 speech on the House floor, Ryan proposed that any emergency spending legislation, including disaster relief, be automatically offset by an ‘across-the-board’ budget cut,” Think Progress’ Scott Keyes writes.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.