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FEMA Fumbles: Texas is Opportunity To Hold Agency Accountable

Anyone who hasn’t seen enough evidence that partisanship is toxic to American society need look no further than the way partisan politicians, media, and voters politicize national disaster relief.

This ugly political pastime is on display yet again in all its boorish insensitivity and lack of decency as Americans struggle to survive and stay safe in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.

After Texas Senator Ted Cruz thanked Donald Trump in a press conference Monday for pledging “whatever the state needs” for disaster relief in the wake of Harvey, he was criticized by politicians and journalists for opposing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill in 2013.

MSNBC’s Katy Tur asked Cruz to justify this apparent hypocrisy, and Cruz answered:

“The problem with that particular bill is it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy. And what I said then and still believe now is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster and people who are hurting to pay for their own political wish list.”

At Salon, Taylor Link says that there were “some” appropriations that “could have been considered” unrelated pork, but they were ultimately removed from the bill before it was passed in January of 2013, and Cruz still voted against it.

But Link’s claim is factually inaccurate. The final version of the $50 billion Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 was a massive pork barrel spending bill and political slush fund for federal agencies.

It included $17 billion in Community Development Block Grants for any states with disaster declarations since 2011. That money just pork that bureaucrats would ostensibly spend to mitigate damage from future disasters, not Sandy relief.

The final version of the $50 billion Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 was a massive pork barrel spending bill and political slush fund for federal agencies.

It included $3.9 billion for U.S. Housing and Urban Development to be used for “economic revitalization,” not Sandy relief.

It included $100 million for the Health Department “to be used at the discretion of the secretary,” not Sandy relief.

It included $5.3 billion in transportation projects related to reducing risk of damage from future disasters, not Sandy relief.

It included:

$235 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs
$161 million for the Small Business Administration
$32 million for Amtrak
$14.6 million for the Federal Aviation Administration
$218 million for the Department of Agriculture
$513.25 million for the Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, and Office of Science
$88.335 million for the Department of Defense
$3.997 billion for the Department of Energy
$6.544 billion for the Department of Homeland Security.

Plain and simple: Federal legislators seized upon a disaster and exploited the suffering of Hurricane Sandy victims and the good will of their fellow Americans to pass a pork-barrel stimulus package to fatten up federal budgets with taxpayers’ money.

If that’s not enough evidence that the “Sandy Relief Bill” was loaded with unrelated federal spending, what can Ted Cruz’s critics possibly make of the fact that by late 2014, two years after the bill was passed, New York City’s Department of Investigation found that over 90% of the 14,000 Hurricane Sandy victims who submitted applications for relief under the Build It Back program still had not received any help?

By late 2014...over 90% of the 14,000 Hurricane Sandy victims who submitted applications for relief under the Build It Back program still had not received any help.

In 2017, five years after Sandy, many of them are still waiting, as the program (funded with $1.7 billion in federal aid from the Sandy Relief Bill) continues to face delays and has already gone over its budget by half a billion dollars.

This kind of corruption and malfeasance, this kind of exploitation of problems our society faces, this kind of abuse of the U.S. taxpayer, is the reason why Americans loved Ronald Reagan for saying:

“I think you all know that I’ve always felt that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

It’s not surprising that when the Rockefeller Foundation and Associated Press conducted a survey in 2013 of 2,025 individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy (half of them from New York or New Jersey), and asked:

“We are interested in your opinions on who you think would be there to help you if a major disaster were to happen in your neighborhood today. For each of the following please tell me if you think you would be able to rely on that institution or group to help you a great deal, quite a bit, a moderate amount, only a little, or not at all?”

Here is the order that Sandy victims placed different groups in, from most reliable for help, to least reliable:

  • Your local police, fire department, ambulance, hospitals and other first responders;
  • Your friends and family who live more than one mile away from your home;
  • Your friends, family and neighbors who live within one mile of your home;
  • Relief organizations like the American Red Cross;
  • Your church or religious community;
  • Charitable organizations like food banks or the Salvation Army;
  • Your insurance company including help filing an insurance claim;
  • The people you work with (asked among employed);
  • Your employer (asked among employed);
  • Your local electric, gas and water utilities;
  • Your local schools (asked among parents);
  • Your state government;
  • Businesses in your neighborhood; then
  • The federal government including FEMA.

This is what it looks like when a nation’s government politicizes disaster relief.

Photo Credit: Defense Department