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FEMA Has $3.4 Billion To Respond To Disasters. Will It Be Enough?


The Federal Emergency Management Agency has just $3.4 billion in the fund it uses to respond to disasters and help victims—an amount that can quickly be depleted by hurricanes and other catastrophes.

Key Takeaways

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency has $3.4 billion in the fund it uses to respond to natural disasters.
  • Individual hurricanes, including Hurricane Ian last year, have cost the agency more than that.
  • The agency has curtailed emergency preparedness funding in order to respond to immediate needs.
  • President Joe Biden has asked Congress for another $12 billion for FEMA.

The level of the fund is so low that FEMA is putting longer-term disaster mitigation projects on hold so that it can spend its limited resources on immediate needs like helping victims of the Maui wildfires and Hurricane Idalia, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said in a press conference this week.

“While Immediate Needs Funding will ensure we can continue to respond to disasters, it is not a permanent solution,” Criswell said.

Criswell highlighted the agency’s precarious finances at a time when the agency is responding to two major disasters—helping survivors of the wildfires in Hawaii that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina earlier this month, and responding to Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning near Keaton Beach, Florida, as a Category 3 storm, battering the coastline with flooding and high winds.

Responding to hurricanes can rapidly deplete the fund. For example, the agency spent $2.5 billion last October just on Hurricane Ian, which struck Florida last September, and has spent a total of $4.35 billion on that storm.

When the fund will be replenished is up in the air. The annual federal budget, which is supposed to be finalized on Sept. 30, could be delayed as Democratic and Republican lawmakers are bracing for a showdown over the budget and a possible government shutdown.

Members of Congress in recent weeks have raised the possibility of a government shutdown. Republican lawmakers are demanding new spending cuts on top of the ones that President Joe Biden agreed to in May as a condition of ending the standoff over the debt ceiling. If Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, and Democrats, who control the Senate, do not pass a budget by Sept. 30, the government could partially shut down.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from Virginia, has floated the possibility of a stopgap bill to keep the government running for a few more months, allowing more time to negotiate, according to press reports.

Earlier this month, Biden asked Congress to give FEMA $12 billion in supplemental funds to respond to disasters this year, along with additional funding to help Ukraine among other projects.  

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.