Many Americans will find it difficult to return to their daily routines today. The massacre at a Connecticut elementary school Friday, in which 26 people were murdered in an act of senseless violence, including 20 small children, has left the country shocked. The Heritage Foundation expresses its condolences to the families and friends of the victims and grieves along with them.
Among people heading back to work will be lawmakers, who will do their best to carry on as they return to Washington to confront a number of pressing challenges, including a disaster relief bill for Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy left more than 100 people dead and destroyed about 400,000 homes and other buildings.
Today, the Senate will begin debating a bill that was supposed to be disaster recovery funds for those devastated by the storm. But so many special-interest projects were added on that the $60.4 billion request has turned into a farce. Roughly $28 billion of the request is marked for future disaster-mitigation projects.
- $200 million for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be used freely at the discretion of the Secretary;
- Money for salmon fisheries in Alaska; and
- $2 million for roof repairs at the Smithsonian.
The bill also seeks federal funding for things that are provided on a state and local level, or by nonprofits and communities, such as food for food banks.
As Heritage visiting fellow Matt Mayer explains, “[S]etting aside whether these projects have merit, a supplemental spending request to deal with a current crisis is not the appropriate vehicle to propose new spending projects.” Items have been tacked onto the bill that should be debated for the regular federal budget, not disaster funding.
The way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responds to disasters—and the type of disasters that it responds to—are issues that need serious consideration. Hurricane Sandy is the type of disaster that FEMA should be responsible for, but using a legitimate disaster funding request as an opportunity for piling on all kinds of unrelated money is irresponsible and insulting to the victims of the disaster.
Adding injury to taxpayers, the Administration did not propose any ways to pay for the $60.4 billion cost of the bill. In the dire budget situation, when Congress and the President are already tasked with averting the fiscal cliff, coming up with any extra money isn’t an easy request—and only necessary funds should qualify for immediate disaster relief. Mayer estimates that “Removing unnecessary items from the Administration’s request yields a reduced request of $12.8 billion in supplemental funds. These funds should be provided only after being offset by spending reductions.”
Americans believe in coming to the aid of those who are hurting. Whether in Connecticut or New York, a devastated school community or a hurricane-ravaged neighborhood, we will rebuild. We must help meet the immediate needs of these communities while we carefully consider longer-term solutions.