Saturday, January 05, 2013

Why the fights over disaster relief in Congress keep getting worse

Why the fights over disaster relief in Congress keep getting worse

"Since the 1980s, Congress has been picking up a bigger portion of the tab for damage caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms and all manner of disasters.

Now, there are arguments for and against the federal government getting more involved in disaster relief. On the plus side: It’s easier for Congress to borrow money for emergencies than it is for state and local governments. On the minus side: Many federal aid programs encourage development in disaster-prone areas. That makes future hurricanes and floods even more expensive.

But whatever the merits, the authors point out that Congress has never planned for this rapid growth in federal disaster aid. A huge portion of relief spending isn’t budgeted ahead of time — it’s just approved on an emergency, ad hoc basis. That’s not very transparent, and it’s not a great way to make policy. 

How big a deal is this? Quite big: ‘Given the current approach to disaster relief funding,’ the NBER authors write, ‘we project an ‘unfunded’ liability for disaster assistance over the next seventy-five years comparable to that of Social Security.’ And the problem could get worse still as climate change and sea-level rise make floods and other natural disasters more frequent and more destructive."

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