Democratic lawmakers ask how FEMA is planning to balance natural disasters, COVID-19 response

Democratic lawmakers ask how FEMA is planning to balance natural disasters, COVID-19 response

Democratic lawmakers are requesting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supply information on how it is planning to balance natural disasters and its COVID-19 response. 

A group of 80 Democrats, led by Rep. Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyTrump administration signs AI research and development agreement with the UK Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers Lawmakers call for expanded AI role in education, business to remain competitive MORE (Calif.) and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTexas Democratic official urges Biden to visit state: 'I thought he had his own plane' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements A game theorist's advice to President Trump on filling the Supreme Court seat MORE (D-Calif.), sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor asking the agency to outline disaster preparation and recovery plans for COVID-19. 

The Democrats point to the fact that disaster season is approaching, specifically for flooding, wildfires and hurricanes, and to the tornadoes and storms in Louisiana and Mississippi that killed at least 17 people last week.

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The lawmakers expressed concern that FEMA’s resources are already thinned from its response to the COVID-19 crisis, making the agency unable to effectively respond to any natural disasters that occur at the same time. 

“While these are unprecedented times and your Agency is working diligently to lead the Federal government response to the pandemic, we know that a natural disaster could strike at any moment,” the letter reads. 

The Democrats added they worried about “inadequate staffing levels, sheltering procedures in a time of social distancing, and a global shortage of necessary protective gear.” 

“Addressing major disasters like these requires a highly coordinated response across all levels of government that will be greatly complicated by the COVID-19 national emergency, including the social distancing measures public health officials are recommending,” the letter added.  

The letter cites the hurricane and wildfire seasons of 2017 and 2018 as times when the country “saw an unprecedented volume of catastrophic disasters” and when the agency’s response was tested.  

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The lawmakers requested answers to 22 questions on the topic within two weeks.

Among the scores of Democrats who signed the letter are Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline McCarthy says there will be a peaceful transition if Biden wins Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid MORE (N.Y.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibTrump attacks Omar for criticizing US: 'How did you do where you came from?' George Conway: 'Trump is like a practical joke that got out of hand' Pelosi endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary challenge MORE (Mich.), Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBusiness groups start gaming out a Biden administration Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (Calif.) and Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package The movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point MORE (Calif.).

A FEMA spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that the agency's commitment to Americans "remains unchanged." The agency has 3,000 employees dedicated to COVID-19 response out of 20,000 employees "ready to respond to other emergencies" and still has $80 billion left in the Stafford Act fund, after obligating more than $5 billion for the coronavirus crisis, the statement read.

"It is imperative during this time that we are also prepared to respond to any additional incidents that may occur, while ensuring our continued response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic remain uninterrupted," the spokesperson said. "To that end, FEMA is taking deliberate and proactive steps to safeguard our ability to augment and sustain our FEMA response operations in the midst of COVID-19, while in preparing for future unknown disasters."

The spokesperson said FEMA is working to potentially expand its incident support operations, increase the "cadre" of employees who work to support state, local, tribal and territorial partners and possibly hire recently retired annuitants.  

FEMA has found itself in uncharted territory as the lead agency responding to the pandemic by managing the national supply chain. 

Scientists predicted earlier this month that the 2020 hurricane season will bring more major hurricanes than usual.