FEMA’s Long-Term Obligations to Cost Taxpayers

When Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf coast of Texas residents quickly found out how much our country has come to depend on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly known by their acronym FEMA.

After hurricanes Irma and Maria struck, some people are asking why taxpayers are footing so much of the bill. And how long is the federal government olbliged to support victims?

“Once a program is in place, it is virtually impossible to get rid of it, or even scale it back,” says former FEMA Director Michael Brown, who was appointed to head the agency by President George W. Bush in 2003.

The agency was created by an Executive Order that President Jimmy Carter signed on April Fool’s Day in 1979. Their primary objective is providing immediate federal assistance once a governor has requested a disaster designation, but FEMA’s responsibilities don’t end there.  Commitments extend into rebuilding, and that can take decades. Brown says when he first began work with FEMA they were still completing reconstruction from California’s 1989 earthquake.

The biggest part of the problem he says, is that insurance companies have successfully lobbied through the years to have the federal government accept responsibility for all flooding at taxpayer expense.  “Because they had a real good lobbying arm, and they got senators and congressman in flood prone areas to say, ‘yes, we want to reduce those costs to my constituents,’ so you end up with the National Flood Insurance Program,” Brown says. “Why should we as taxpayers have an insurance program that subsidizes and helps people rebuild in flood prone areas and allow the insurance industry to slough that off on the taxpayer?” he asks rhetorically.

It’s a national dialogue Brown suggests is overdue.

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