Taxpayers are footing the bill for an increasing number of disasters that should be paid for at the state level, because FEMA’s rules and regulations are outdated, according to a report released Wednesday by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn.
The outdated rules and regulations allow states to qualify for federal aid in less severe disasters, causing the number of federally declared disasters to rise dramatically, the report states.
Nearly half of the 175 declared disasters since 2011 would not have been declared if FEMA had simply adjusted the rules for inflation by using the consumer price index from 1986 to 1999.
As a result, FEMA has spent over $880 million more in disaster recovery since 2011 than it should have.
“The current trend in which the federal government has assumed increasing responsibility for funding disaster recovery is simply unsustainable,” Coburn said in a statement. “In the past, states have considered the federal government a last resort in the wake of catastrophic events, relied on only under circumstances in which their recovery capacities were truly overwhelmed.”
The outdated rules incentivize states to overestimate the damage from routine events, so they can qualify for federal aid. At one point this year, 33 states were receiving federal aid for active disaster zones, the report shows. A significant portion of the aid in 18 of those zones was to pay for the removal of a few inches of snow.
The year-long review of FEMA’s process also found the agency relies heavily on a per capita damage indicator and doesn’t give enough weight to other factors, which gives low population states an unfair advantage.
In 2013 Oklahoma qualified for federal aid when a 5-inch snowstorm caused $6.4 million in damage. But when Indiana was hit by a foot of snow a month later that is expected to cost taxpayers $13 million, FEMA did not initially allow the state any federal funds, the report states.
“FEMA’s 30-year hesitancy to update [the PCDI] has significantly inflated the number of officially declared ‘disasters’ to the tune of millions in wasted taxpayer dollars,” Coburn added. “Given the federal government’s $17.5 trillion national debt, Congress and the administration need to reevaluate FEMA’s process.”
Coburn is the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
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