Hurricane Irene Relief to be Hit as FEMA Funds Almost Empty?

Hurricane Irene devastated the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast, killing at least 40 people and leaving an estimated $2.7 billion in damages. To make matters worse, the Federal Disaster Relief Fund is nearly empty, reported the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday.

This could affect victims of Hurricane Irene, individuals eligible for storm assistance and states recouping emergency response costs from earlier disasters this year.

FEMA currently has less than $800 million available for federal disaster assistance, reported the agency’s administrator Craig Fugate. In order to pay for the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, the agency must temporarily suspend payments for older long-term projects, such as rebuilding roads, schools and other structures destroyed by tornadoes in southeastern states and Joplin, Mo.

When reporters asked Fugate is there enough money in the disaster relief fund to cover damages from Hurricane Irene, he responded, “Don’t know.”

“What we’ve been working on will take care of quite a few folks. But as I testified back earlier this year…if we had any significant disasters between now and the end of the fiscal year, it would likely require additional funds.”

Nevertheless, FEMA will continue to assist state and local governments but the agency has not authorized payments to individual victims of the hurricane.

FEMA hopes to resume payments for long-term projects, but this will only occur if Congress appropriates additional funds for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, said Fugate.

The House of Representatives has already passed an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security for the upcoming fiscal year. It includes an additional $1 billion for the disaster relief fund this current fiscal year and $2.65 billion for fiscal 2012.

The Senate has yet to pass the bill, and several House Republicans have criticized the Obama administration and Democrat-controlled Senate for failing to act and leaving FEMA “running on fumes.”

Now lawmakers must come together to decide how much money FEMA’s disaster relief will receive for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that additional funding for FEMA will be offset by spending cuts. However, both parties disagree on whether emergency appropriations should be offset by spending cuts.

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