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We shouldn’t allow politics to impede disaster relief

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Across the country, 2017 was a memorable year for weather related events. From devastating wildfires in the west, to the impact of hurricanes Harvey and Irma and even in the sheltered hills and hollows of my home state, West Virginia, in recent years we have suffered deadly natural disasters with devastating personal repercussions that will be felt for years.

Communities across the country are grappling with a new paradigm for both intensity and recovery from weather activity. Yet even as the storms change, the politics around disaster recovery remain entirely predictable. Granted, Congress is weighing its third recovery bill in the last year, and we need to take a hard look at a system clearly unfit for the current circumstances. However, those affected in each of these disasters will be ill served if their funds are delayed in order to appease base voters.

{mosads}As evidence of this issue, look no further than the recent letter penned by California Governor Jerry Brown to President Trump asking for federal funds to help those affected by recent wildfires. While this was simply a governor doing his job, almost the entirety of the California Republican congressional delegation refused to sign their name in support. Only one, Orange County Republican Ed Royce, would cross the aisle on behalf of the state. While this sort of partisanship may earn points inside the beltway, it shortchanges those affected by the fires and ultimately, avoids the kind of critical reforms needed to withstand the new climate reality.


Instead of engaging in familiar yet predictable rhetoric, it’s time for lawmakers to take a hard look at the current system and ensure response capabilities match the new weather reality.

Disaster response is presently dictated by the Stafford Act, a 1988 body of legislation passed as an update to the Disaster Relief Act of 1974. In fact, no major update to disaster relief execution has been passed since 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While some debate may still exist about man’s precise role in climate change, there can be no argument that the destructive and disruptive power of these storms has increased in recent years.

The Stafford Act has provided an adequate response thus to this point, but has significant limitations. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, disaster funding allocations are made at the state and federal level, not specific to a region. As a result, money allocated for victims must travel a circuitous route through several federal agencies, sometimes delaying relief for years.

Moreover, the act only allows for structures affected by disaster to be rebuilt to their previous standard — it doesn’t allow for mitigation, resilience or prevention to be a part of the equation. With the climate changing ever more rapidly, being able to prepare for the next storm is just as important as recovering from the latest edition.

Reforming the Stafford Act is just one way that elected officials can work together, but collaboration and bipartisanship must be a part of a thoughtful approach to preparing and recovering from these events. By taking a reasoned approach that embraces both smart fiscal policy and the latest scientific research, we can rebuild cities and homes in a way that provides resilient systems, infrastructure and cities that are able to withstand the new weather reality we live in. However, for now it is vital that residents in every state are provided with the funds they need to rebuild their homes, lives and businesses. Surely this is an idea that both parties can agree on.

Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia served in the House of Representatives from 1977-2015. He is the former ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Tags Donald Trump Ed Royce Ed Royce Hurricane Harvey Hurricane Irma Nick Rahall Nick Rahall

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