published Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Tornadoes, Irene and federal relief funds

After tornadoes ravaged Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia in April, the federal government began providing disaster-relief funds for various purposes in this region. For instance, Tennessee got more than $7 million in individual assistance grants, and Georgia got nearly $5 million.

The states were also supposed to get millions more dollars from Washington for longer-term efforts to recover from the devastating tornadoes.

But now, after Hurricane Irene struck along our nation's East Coast, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it will be halting long-term relief funds to this area and diverting that money to areas affected by Irene. FEMA says it just doesn't have the money to fund both, so our area likely will not be getting the money it was expecting. For instance, tens of millions of dollars in anticipated funding for the construction and strengthening of storm shelters will not be coming after all.

Certainly there can be a debate over which area needs the funds more. Well over 300 people died in April's tornadoes in this region, compared with about 50 deaths from Irene -- but then again, Irene's damage was spread over a vaster area.

Our purpose is not to say that "we" deserve the aid more than the victims of Hurricane Irene do. We are not in a position to judge that.

Rather, it's to point out that what Washington gives, it can take away.

The federal government obviously has a number of proper and constitutional functions. But as our $14.6 trillion national debt continues to grow unrestrained, relying on Washington to meet an array of needs that are primarily state, local and private functions is becoming an increasingly iffy proposition.

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