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Disaster Relief Update

Director Lew provides a disaster relief update on estimated needs for Hurricane Irene through FY 2012.

Yesterday, the President joined with local leaders in New Jersey to tour the devastation that Hurricane Irene visited on communities in that state. He delivered a message to those suffering in the Garden State, and those in cities and towns up and down the East Coast hurt by the storm: “The entire country is behind you, and we are going to make sure that we provide all the resources that are necessary in order to help these communities rebuild.”

This commitment to our neighbors in a time of need is one that crosses all boundaries of geography and political persuasion. As I wrote about on Thursday, it’s precisely this bipartisan commitment to help our fellow Americans that has guided funding for disaster relief for decades. And it’s what guided the Congress who included a provision in the Budget Control Act signed into law four weeks ago that allowed for the discretionary spending cap to be adjusted to fund disaster relief without an offset.

Last week, we told Congress that under this mechanism and as identified under existing law, there are approximately $5.2 billion in known disaster relief needs for fiscal year 2012 (covering enduring costs from previous disasters such as the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri earlier this year), and that paying for Hurricane Irene will come on top of that. When I wrote that, we were still assessing what we would need for Irene.

Now, after working closely with FEMA and DHS officials in Washington and on the ground, we have an initial estimate of that cost. As of now, our preliminary assessment is that we will need roughly $1.5 billion in additional disaster relief funding through FY 2012 to help families and communities affected by this Hurricane. This roughly $1.5 billion estimate would help cover the uninsured losses families and communities have suffered – those damages that are not already covered by private insurance (under federal law, FEMA and other federal agencies cannot duplicate insurance and other private benefits).

The vast majority of that $1.5 billion will begin to be paid in the upcoming fiscal year that starts in less than four weeks. Congress is back in session tomorrow, and we will work with them to fund both the $5.2 billion needed for non-Hurricane Irene known disaster needs and the roughly $1.5 billion that we now estimate is needed for Irene through FY 2012 (as was the case with prior disasters, there also could be costs for future fiscal years).

With regard to the next couple of weeks, we are watching the situation closely. If additional funds are needed to get us through the closing days of this fiscal year, we will make sure that whatever resources are needed are provided. Guiding us is the steadfast commitment to make funds available in the amount and at the time they are needed. If resources are required for the last four weeks of FY 2011, we will explore all options to get it done.

It’s also important to remember that while FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund is the pot of money that pays out individual disaster assistance benefits for survivors, and helps support states’ long-term rebuilding of public infrastructure, other federal agencies, like the Small Business Administration, also provide their own separate funds to help families and businesses get back on their feet.

We are one country. A disaster in one corner is felt by Americans all across our land. That is why when it comes to taking care of our neighbors in need, we will not let politics get in the way and will do what is right to help them recover and rebuild.

Jack Lew is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.