Tropical Storm Katia Approaches, FEMA Funds Depleted After Hurricane Irene

As Tropical Storm Katia continues to strengthen in the Atlantic, victims of Hurricane Irene are concerned that FEMA's low disaster relief fund will not be able to handle another natural disaster.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Katia is expected to be near hurricane strength late Wednesday or early Thursday. Similar to Hurricane Irene, Katia could cause damage to the Caribbean but experts are not sure yet if the U.S. is at risk.

Even if Katia misses the U.S., hurricane season is far from over.

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According to the NHC, hurricane season is from June 1 to Nov. 31. The center avoids making hurricane predictions, but their website states that the "2011 season is expected to be comparable to a number of active seasons since 1995."

This means there is a 70 percent probability that during 2011 there will be 14-19 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes.

Currently, less than $800 million is available from the Federal Disaster Relief Fund for federal disaster assistance, reported FEMA on Monday. In the wake of Hurricane Irene, which caused estimated damages of $2.7 billion, FEMA is concerned whether they can continue providing support to local and state governments in the event another natural disaster occurs.

To do so, the agency will require additional funding for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 31.

This past weekend, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) urged the Senate to approve the House GOP version of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill for the 2012 fiscal year, which includes an additional $1 billion for the disaster relief fund this current fiscal year.

"Time and time again, the 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," he said.

Now lawmakers must come together to decide how much money the disaster relief fund will receive for the upcoming fiscal year. The House GOP version provides $2.65 billion for the 2012 fiscal year.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee, said FEMA is "running on fumes" as it provides assistance to "those recovering from the devastating floods and tornadoes earlier this year."

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.

Former FEMA administrator Mike Brown, who headed the agency during Hurricane Katrina, agrees with Cantor.

"We don't have the money for right now to do it," he said in an interview. "We have to start making these hard decisions facing the fiscal reality that the country is broke."

However, Rep. Cedric Richmond, (D-La.), who represents New Orleans, described the matter as "sinful to require us to cut order to provide emergency disaster assistance for American citizens."

President Obama requested $6.79 billion for FEMA for the 2012 fiscal year, but the administration has not submitted a supplemental spending bill that will assist the agency during the last month of this fiscal year.

As a result, FEMA will not consider any new applications for permanent repair work in pre-Irene disasters, such as damage from tornadoes in Missouri, Alabama and Mississippi and flooding in the Dakotas, said Craig Fugate, the agency's administrator.

Fugate noted that individual assistance programs would not be affected.

"Our goal is to keep this disruption as short as possible," he said.

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