The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Disaster response raises questions

The National Weather Service over the weekend downgraded Hurricane Irene from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm, but that probably didn’t mean much to its victims on the East Coast. With over three million people without power and 15 deaths reported thus far, the effects of this storm will certainly be felt for weeks to come as we work to rebuild the wreckage.

However, one problem that’s becoming increasingly salient is how we’re going to pay for the damage. The Washington Post reported today that FEMA is working with a measly $1 billion total for disaster assistance and temporarily has to suspend payments to rebuild roads and schools in Joplin, Miss., the site of another natural disaster that ought to still be fresh in our minds from the beginning of summer.

On its face, this fact just sounds simply ridiculous. After all, one would think that if there’s anything the government ought to be doing right it would be providing relief for our country’s disaster victims, especially after the debacle following FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina a short six years ago.

Of course, this isn’t something that ought to be sensationalized either; FEMA isn’t cutting all funding for Joplin victims, but rather is halting payments on some longer-term projects as to not run out of money.

Still, it’s becoming apparent that the Obama administration will have to request more funding from Congress if it plans to keep FEMA’s budget solvent, which will no doubt be a point of contention among many of our Congress members since we’ve spent the past few months talking about how desperately we need to cut the federal budget.

Should this debate happen? I think it will certainly bring up some interesting questions about our priorities as a nation.

It’s easy to talk about eliminating funding for a social program here or there or “trimming the fat” when it comes to a lot of executive agencies, but what exactly are we supposed to do when faced with emergency situations? For now at least I like to remain confident in our ability to actually give the victims of Irene and the citizens of Joplin the support they need (though that might be a naïve sentiment considering the government’s past record on disaster response) but will this too become a possible point on the chopping block for the Congressional “Supercommittee” entrusted with fixing our national debt?

Events like Hurricane Irene and the Joplin tornado are a stark reminder that government spending can have a direct effect on individual people. Now, I’m well aware that the government’s talks about cutting massive amounts of expenditures and FEMA’s current budget shortfall are not necessarily directly related (FEMA is one organization that’s no stranger to mismanagement). However, when it comes time to make the difficult decisions about fixing our deficit, are we going to stick to the principle of introducing no revenue increases and balancing the budget solely through spending cuts at the risk of not being prepared to respond to inevitable disasters like another hurricane?

And before you say that this is a completely hyperbolic prediction, let me remind you that we had to spend months last year deciding on whether or not it was worth it for us to offer the surviving first-responders of 9/11 their healthcare coverage. And even then, the compensation that the government did offer didn’t include coverage for first-responders who later developed cancer. I should hope our senators and congressmen will develop a bit more sympathy after such an experience and will remember for whom they work in the midst of the devastation that Irene has wrought. If we’re going to get serious about balancing the nation’s budget, then we certainly ought not be doing it on the backs of those most vulnerable in this country.

Brandon Bub is a sophomore majoring in English and edits The Daily Campus opinion column. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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