JOPLIN - As officials at the White House worked Monday to calculate the amount of money needed for disaster relief following Hurricane Irene, FEMA officials said they will redirect some agency funds to that effort and effectively delay long-term Joplin recovery funding.
The amount of money in FEMA's disaster relief fund has fallen below $1 billion. This caused the agency to implement its Immediate Needs Funding plan on August 27, which prioritizes the needs of disaster survivors, to extend what's remaining in the Disaster Relief Fund, FEMA External Affairs Specialist Josh deBerge said. INF will temporarily impact longer-term recovery projects, such as rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and libraries, until more funding becomes available.
DeBerge emphasized that funding was only being delayed, not suspended. He also stressed disaster survivors of the May 22 tornado that left more than 150 people dead will continue to receive individual disaster assistance payments from FEMA.
Missouri SEMA Public Information Officer Michael O'Connell said there's no way to know right now how much funding FEMA is redirecting towards the East Coast that would have been used in Joplin. An exact figure will only be determined once all of the long-term recovery projects in Joplin are completed and billed to the government, O'Connell said.
Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, reacted to the Missouri disaster relief funding cuts in a written statement her office released Monday.
"I warned FEMA and assured victims in Joplin that they would not be forgotten after the camera trucks lowered their antennas and rolled out of town. I will fight to make sure that promise is kept," it said. "FEMA should be prepared for all types of disasters and have the resources to respond rapidly and stay until the work is done, and until the community is made whole again."
Later Monday afternoon Senator Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, also released a written statement in the wake of Hurricane Irene recovery efforts.
"Recovery from hurricane damage on the East Coast must not come at the expense of Missouri's rebuilding efforts," Blunt's written statement said. "If FEMA can't fulfill its promise to our state because we have other disasters, that's unacceptable, and we need to take a serious look at how our disaster response policies are funded and implemented."
Gov. Jay Nixon, D-Missouri, had his office release a written statement on the federal disaster funding which said, "From day one, Gov. Nixon has ensured that Missouri has the resources to fulfill the state's obligations to help Joplin and other communities recover from tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters, and we know we will face significant expenses as we begin the process of repairing and rebuilding the levees and other critical infrastructure across the state. Moving forward, the state will continue to meet its obligations to help communities get back on their feet as quickly as possible, and we have every reason to believe that our federal partners will continue to do the same."
With hurricane season getting underway, the relatively low level of funds remaining for federal disaster assistance is a concern for FEMA, Administrator Craig Fugate said in a media conference call Monday morning on Hurricane Irene response and recovery. However, Fugate said existing funds are enough to assist all the people who currently require disaster relief.