published Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Federal disaster funds for tornado relief halted due to Hurricane Irene

Hurricane specialist Dan Brown reviews the tracks and intensity of Hurricane Irene at the National Hurricane Center on Friday.
Hurricane specialist Dan Brown reviews the tracks and intensity of Hurricane Irene at the National Hurricane Center on Friday.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    In this file photo, Ringgold Middle School, bottom left, and Ringgold High School, middle, were severely damaged during storms that produced numerous tornadoes throughout the North Georgia and Chattanooga area.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Federal funding for some future long-term disaster relief in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama to help rebuild after the April tornadoes has been halted.

Instead, the money will be used for immediate disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Irene, officials said Monday.

The shift in funding will not affect individual assistance for tornado victims or projects that already have been submitted or approved, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate told reporters Monday during a news conference about Hurricane Irene.

"If it's been submitted and approved, it already has the funding," Fugate said. "But if any work has not been submitted yet for permanent work -- and this would be the repairs and rebuilding -- we will not be able to fund those based upon on our remaining dollars, as we are now responding to Hurricane Irene."

FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund is running low, with less than $1 billion left, officials said. As a result, Fugate said, the agency must invoke what it calls immediate needs funding, which prioritizes the needs of survivors, states and communities during disasters.

The agency also had to keep enough money in the fund to respond to other disasters that could occur this year.

Fugate said FEMA is talking to the White House about additional needed funding. In the coming weeks, when officials have a better assessment of the damage from Hurricane Irene, they will know how much money will be needed, he said.

Congress would need to approve additional money for the disaster fund, a vote that might be difficult to muster through the House in this year's anti-spending climate.

Georgia and Tennessee's four Republican senators did not immediately respond Monday afternoon to questions about whether they would support more funding for FEMA.

FEMA officials stressed that assistance for temporary housing, individual claims, emergency response and debris removal will not be affected by the freeze. However, help with long-term public repair and rebuilding projects will be halted.

Officials could not specify what those projects might be in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Some of them might be similar to projects announced last week in Alabama, where FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program approved $491,000 to build individual safe rooms and purchase fixed generators for several communities.

The director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that children could spend more time in temporary schools because of the action. Also, Faulkner said, the move holds up about $33 million in funding meant to build and strengthen storm shelters.

Through the beginning of August, FEMA had awarded more than $7.4 million in individual assistance grants in Tennessee, while Georgia had received $4.7 million. The agency has supplied additional funding for local governments and in other grant assistance.

This is not the first time FEMA has frozen assistance to keep its relief fund from being depleted. The strategy was used as a precautionary measure five times in the last 10 years, the most recent in 2010.

"When we reach a point where we need to preserve the funding in there for emergency work, we will discontinue repair work that's considered permanent from previous older disasters," Fugate said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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rolando said...

Ah, yes. Once again the Blue States gain financial advantage and preferential treatment over the Red States... Anyone out there really believe otherwise?

The administration holds a deep, long-term grudge against those who voted against him. And he is petty. Right down to individual companies and people.

August 30, 2011 at 10 a.m.
terrybham said...

Rolando-- According to the Tax Foundation your statement holds no water. Seventeen out of twenty states receiving the most Federal money are "red states". You can check it out if you care. However, I find that people like you are long on opinion and short on facts. Facts simply do not matter. The "blue states" in question pay in far more than they receive while the "red states" in this instance pay in less than they receive. Go figure. I would welcome a Federal law that states that no state can receive more that they pay in. That would leave Tennessee out in the cold. You pay for what you get. Why should you receive something that you do not pay for?

August 30, 2011 at 1:19 p.m.
rolando said...

Your cited data is six years out of date, terry. Obama was still voting "Present" at that time.

Vermont has one-quarter the population of Tennessee, one-half our unemployment rate, and ranks 19th on per capita income [Tennessee ranks 39th].

So exactly which state has the ability to repair its own damage? The residents of which state can afford home insurance [because they have jobs]? Which state[s] suffered the most damage, Vermont's flooding or TN/GA/AL's tornado? Which state can tax its people at a higher rate [because they have jobs]?

Now -- Which state[s] voted for Obama and which state received federal money from the other state[s]?

My data came from various government sites. Feel free to Google it.

August 30, 2011 at 8:27 p.m.
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