Disaster Relief Funding and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations

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DIANE Publishing, 2011 - 28 pages
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When a state is overwhelmed by an emergency or disaster, the governor may request assistance from the federal government. Federal assistance is contingent on whether the President issues an emergency or major disaster declaration. Once the declaration has been issued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides disaster relief through the use of the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which is the source of funding for the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Relief and Disaster Assistance Act response and recovery programs. Congress appropriates money to the DRF to ensure that funding for disaster relief is available to help individuals and communities stricken by emergencies and major disasters (in addition, Congress appropriates disaster funds to other accounts administered by other federal agencies pursuant to federal statutes that authorize specific types of disaster relief). The DRF is generally funded at a level that is sufficient for what are known as "normal" disasters. These are incidents for which DRF outlays are less than $500 million. When a large disaster occurs, funding for the DRF may be augmented through emergency supplemental appropriations. A supplemental appropriation generally provides additional budget authority during the current fiscal year to (1) finance activities not provided for in the regular appropriation; or (2) provide funds when the regular appropriation is deemed insufficient. Whether or not the current practice is the best system for budgeting disaster relief is subject to debate. Some argue that more money should be appropriated in FEMA's DRF account in annual appropriations, while others maintain that augmenting the DRF through emergency supplemental appropriations is preferable because it allows Congress to react directly to a particular situation. Others may argue that emergency supplemental appropriations are preferable for fiscal management reasons because an appropriation is not requested unless there is a real need for supplemental funding. Another argument is to revamp the budgetary process to fund disaster relief. This report describes the various components of the DRF, including (1) what authorities have shaped it over the years; (2) how FEMA determines the amount of the appropriation requested to Congress (pertaining to the DRF); and (3) how emergency supplemental appropriations are requested. In addition to the DRF, information is provided on funds appropriated in supplemental appropriations legislation to agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Aspects of debate concerning how disaster relief is budgeted are also highlighted and examined, and alternative budgetary options are summarized. This report will be updated as events warrant.
 

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