Biden admin asks for additional 4 bln USD for disaster relief as FEMA running out of funds
WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday asked Congress for an additional 4 billion U.S. dollars as part of its supplemental funding request in response to a string of natural disasters across the United States in recent weeks.
Early in August, the White House initially requested 12 billion dollars in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, which helps with rescue and relief efforts.
According to estimates from the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday, the fires in Hawaii and Louisiana, flooding in Vermont, as well as Hurricane Idalia in Florida and other southeastern states mean that a total of 16 billion dollars is needed.
During his visit to FEMA's offices in Washington on Thursday, Biden urged Congress to take swift action to approve the funding in response to disasters.
"We need this disaster relief request met, and we need it in September, we can't wait," said Biden, who was scheduled to visit Florida on Saturday after approving a major disaster declaration for the state.
Biden said he could not understand why some lawmakers believe the money is unnecessary even in the wake of Hurricane Idalia and wildfires in Maui.
The year of 2023 has set records for billion-dollar weather disasters to date, but FEMA has to restrict its disaster spending for "critical response efforts" because of low funds.
The federal government has tallied 15 weather-related disasters with each having exceeded 1 billion dollars in damage - a new record for the first seven months of the year, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The list doesn't include some of this summer's deadliest tragedies: the historic Maui wildfires, which could cost 6 billion dollars, and Hurricane Idalia hitting the U.S. southeastern states, which is expected to cost about 20 billion dollars, according to Moody's preliminary estimates.
However, FEMA has projected a deficit for its Disaster Relief Fund "sometime in September," according to Administrator Deanne Criswell.
Criswell said at the White House this week that the agency is using its remaining disaster funds only "for critical response efforts to Idalia, the Maui fires and any other extreme weather events."
FEMA imposed new spending restriction Tuesday, which limits the agency to spending disaster funds on life-saving measures such as clearing debris from roads, maintaining services such as health care and water, and providing emergency housing for displaced individuals.
The restriction could temporarily halt thousands of projects by states to rebuild facilities and infrastructure damaged by disasters in the past decade or longer ago.
In an internal memo, FEMA said that its disaster fund is "approaching exhaustion" and that restrictions are needed due to "the current disaster environment with a major fire and multiple hurricanes."
Criswell noted that recovery work "doesn't stop" but that "it just delays the obligations until the Disaster Relief Fund has either replenished or into the next fiscal year."