One of the first jobs facing Congress when it returns to work will be finding billions of dollars to pay for damage caused by a summer of natural disasters stretching from Joplin to the Jersey Shore.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is suspending payments for some projects in tornado-ravaged Joplin because of immediate disaster needs along the East Coast after Hurricane Irene. Some spending for other storm-related and flood-related damage in other parts of the country also has been delayed.
A FEMA spokesman said Monday that the agency’s disaster fund has dipped well below $1 billion.
As a result, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said Monday the agency will not consider any new applications for what it calls permanent repair work in pre-Irene disasters.
“Any projects that have not come in for approval, we’re not going to be able to fund those as this point. We’re going to postpone those,” Fugate said. “Our goal is to keep this disruption as short as possible, but it was prudent.”
Temporary housing and debris removal, however, are not affected.
But Missouri’s two U.S. senators are still angry over cutbacks facing Joplin.
“Recovery from hurricane damage on the East Coast must not come at the expense of Missouri’s rebuilding efforts,” said a statement from Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican. “If FEMA can’t fulfill its promise to our state because we have other disasters, that’s unacceptable.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said she will work to make sure Joplin’s repairs are fully funded.
“FEMA should be prepared for all types of disasters and have the resources to respond rapidly and stay until the work is done,” her statement said.
The money being sent to the East Coast typically would have been used to rebuild roads and infrastructure. It also could have been used to repair or rebuild public buildings such as schools.
In Joplin, the May 22 tornado destroyed the high school, two grade schools, two middle schools and a school technology center. High school students are meeting in a converted department store.
Washington is expected eventually to come up with the money to pay for repairs and reconstruction in Joplin and across the country.
But there is a dispute over how to pay the bills. Some in Congress want to cut spending in other programs to provide the funds for ongoing damage relief. Others have said disaster funding should be an addition to the federal budget.
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