Appropriations Panel Votes To Begin Replenishing FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund

WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, Sept. 6) -- The Senate appropriations panel with jurisdiction over the budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) voted Tuesday to begin replenishing the depleted coffers of the agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, which had fallen to insufficient levels even before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene pummeled the East Coast and New England.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) -- a senior member of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and number two in seniority on the full Appropriations Committee – worked with other panel members in laying the groundwork for Tuesday’s action, which Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) describes as a “down payment” on what eventually may be needed to help communities, families and businesses stricken by the storm.  The panel voted to add $4.2 billion to the $1.8 billion recommended by the Administration for the FEMA disaster fund for Fiscal Year 2012.  The Senate panel’s action also improves on funding proposed for disaster relief by the House of Representatives in a corresponding bill.

The bill next goes to the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday for further debate and votes.  Leahy has said he believes a supplemental appropriations bill may also be needed in responding to the storm’s devastation. 

Leahy also spoke on the Senate Floor Tuesday in explaining the need to top up the Disaster Relief Fund, drawing on his visits to stricken Vermont communities and using one of his own photos in telling Vermont’s story.  [Senator Leahy’s prepared remarks follow:]


Floor Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy

Disaster Recovery Efforts in Vermont

September 6, 2011

Just 10 days ago, Vermont bore the full brunt of then-Tropical Storm Irene as it dumped more than six inches of rain across the state in just a few hours.  The narrow valleys of the Green Mountains – where towns, roads and rivers are historically intertwined – were particularly hard hit as gentle rivers and streams became rushing torrents of destruction.  Whole towns were cut off from the outside world for days.  Homes, businesses, water systems, and miles of roads were swept away.  And some Vermonters lost their lives in these devastating floods. 

Our state has withstood an unprecedented wave of flooding this year with two spring events previously declared as Major Disasters.  Vermonters have shouldered these great burdens and are meeting this new crisis with the same courage, cooperation, and resilience they have always shown.  I applaud the brave first responders; National Guard members from Vermont, Illinois, and Maine; power crews; road crews; and many others who have helped in the recovery and rebuilding process. 

But our small state is stretched to the limit right now, and we need both immediate and ongoing assistance in recovering from these enormous setbacks.  Winter is fast approaching, and we must move quickly to secure our homes and businesses and restore our roads, bridges, water systems, schools, and medical facilities.  With just weeks to accomplish so much, we need the full and immediate support of FEMA and many other federal agencies.

I appreciate President Obama’s swift approval of Governor Shumlin’s request to declare most of Vermont a federal disaster area.  But I am greatly concerned that FEMA may not have adequate resources to meet the immediate assistance needs of the Irene victims in Vermont and elsewhere.  FEMA has less than $700 million in its disaster account for the rest of Fiscal Year 2011, and OMB said today that FEMA needs at least $1.5 billion for recovery assistance in states affected by Hurricane Irene. 

We need to act quickly to find a solution to this pressing problem.  I do not think any of us want to get into a situation where we underfund FEMA at this critical juncture, and then have FEMA run out of resources next spring – just as rebuilding efforts get going on the East Coast.   

Given the breadth and depth of Irene’s destruction, on top of the ongoing disasters already declared in all 50 states, I will continue working with the Democratic leader, the Republican leader, the Appropriations Committee, and all of my colleagues to ensure that FEMA has the resources it needs to help all of our citizens in their desperate time of need.

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