Trump administration’s decision to transfer FEMA money to ICE was reckless, can still be mended


Kernel Opinion SIG

Jansen Hammock

The recent decision by the Trump administration to divert funding from FEMA to ICE for detention programs is not only illogical; it is outright dangerous.

With hurricane Florence placing the United State’s East Coast in danger, one would expect our president to put this high on his priority list. Hurricane Florence is definitely a force to be reckoned with. CNN recorded Florence to be 335 miles long with rainfall that could reach 40 inches, making it the worst hurricane to hit the Carolinas in 30 years, according to the Telegraph. Despite this, the current White House administration is making it clear that they care more about deporting undocumented immigrants than they do about limiting the damage done to American citizens by natural disasters.

FEMA under the Trump administration has had a very grueling record. Its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been condemned widely. FEMA released its own report on the agency’s response to the 2017 hurricane season and it was largely negative.

Last August, the nation was hit by three hurricanes and the spread of wildfires in California. FEMA’s report acknowledges that these natural disasters affected 15 percent of the nation’s population. The report also states that following these events, “leaders had to determine how to allocate and subsequently redistribute limited resources across disasters.”

FEMA is admitting it is unequipped to handle multiple natural disasters at the same time, with a full budget. When part of this budget is siphoned off to ICE, won’t the agency be able to handle fewer disasters than before?

As long as six months after Maria hit Puerto Rico, many were still without power. The agency was unable to provide enough generators to the citizens of Puerto Rico with a full budget.The report further admits “FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure.”

Does this sound like the confidence of an agency that should have its funding shifted? This agency was unable perform to its own standards when its funding wasn’t being diverted at all. Trump’s lack of attention to these details has broader implications for the safety of our citizens. Diverting funding for an already underperforming agency is not constructive or safe for this country.

FEMA feels prepared to take on hurricane Florence following their budget cut, however. As of past Wednesday, FEMA associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, Jeff Byard, has said, “We have plenty of resources, both monetary, staff and commodities, to respond to the storm.”

FEMA has an annual budget of $1.03 billion and $9.755 million was reallocated to ICE. It can also be noted that FEMA has a separate account of $25 million for disaster relief. If another hurricane or natural disaster follows Florence, will FEMA be able to overcome its record? The U.S. economic damage from hurricane Florence is set to be near $170 billion. This poses a significant question about whether the government can afford to divert spending to ICE detention centers. This economic repercussion could set back the United States’ growing economy and devastate the areas affected by hurricane Florence.

Brock Long, Trump’s FEMA Chief, had stated it would take at least $50 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure as of April 2018. This was seven months after Maria hit. The difference with Florence is that FEMA may not have the funds to allocate as many resources as it did to Puerto Rico. This creates concerns for those areas affected by Florence and their economic recovery.

The decision to reallocate funds from FEMA to ICE was reckless. There are ways, however, for the Trump administration to get ahead of their questionable record on natural disasters with hurricane Florence. For example, the high death toll from hurricane Maria was largely due to the dismantling of homes that resulted in their owners getting pneumonia.

The Trump administration should allocate more money to the health and relief efforts that follow Florence to offset the health issues that will follow. This spending, however, means that the administration will have to increase FEMA’s budget since their transfer of funds to ICE. The administration will be unable to prevent the stain this transfer of funds left, but they can act quickly to prevent Florence from creating the same disapproval ratings that followed Maria.

This will all hinge on the performance of FEMA. If the agency maintains its recent record or drops in performance, you can be assured that the transfer of funds will be blamed, but if the administration can send more reinforcements and funding to FEMA, it can end this disaster with less criticism.