Oklahoma Tornado Fallout: The Sequester Cut Disaster Assistance and Weather-Warning Funds

Oklahoma Tornado Fallout: The Sequester Cut Disaster Assistance and Weather-Warning Funds

-23.jpgDisaster personnel and volunteers have to rely critical federal funding that’s been slashed.
May 21 2013, 11:17 AM ET

As disaster personnel and volunteers comb through the havoc left by the tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma on Sunday and Monday, they are going to rely on critical federal funding that was severely cut by the massive cuts known as sequestration.

President Obama has already declared a state of emergency for Oklahoma, directing federal aid for state and local recovery. This allows the Federal Emergency Management to provide temporary housing, home repairs, loans for the uninsured home, and other disaster relief programs. Speaking on Tuesday, the president guaranteed federal resources for victims.

“As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead,” he said. “The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes.”

He added later, “Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today and we will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.”

And while the president has directed all needed federal assistance in this case, making no mention of sequestration, cuts to the FEMA and other governmental programs could prove tricky in the weeks and months ahead.

Due to the massive cuts brought on by sequestration, the disaster relief section of FEMA’s budget will lose $1 billion this year. Following the devastation from Hurricane Sandy earlier this year, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund would pay out a total of $10.8 billion to storm victims by the end of the fiscal year. That would leave $2.5 billion in its disaster fund for the rest of the year.

While testifying before Congress in March, he said he had concerns that there would be enough money to help state and local governments that help rebuild damaged infrastructure and public. Sequestration also cut $1.9 billion from transportation repair funding and other disaster programs.

Sequestration didn’t just affect disaster relief. It will also cut 7 percent of the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service and other weather detection programs.

With less funding to weather satellites, among other programs, NOAA’s forecasts for major storms, hurricanes and tornadoes could become less reliable in the coming years. The National Weather Service is a key resource for informing people of imminent storms.

The launch of the next generation NOAA satellite was also delayed by a few years. Additionally, sequestration will force NOAA to furlough 2,600 employees for up to four days, and leave many positions unfilled.

“Communities across the country rely on NOAA every single day to preserve property, protect lives, prepare for extreme weather events, adapt to a changing world, and to enhance economic prosperity,” the Commerce Department said in March.

If there is a more active tornado season, the money for many these disaster relief programs could run out before the end of the fiscal year in September, while NOAA may not be able to provide the most accurate weather information. And don’t look now, but hurricane season also starts next week.

House to Vote on Fed Pay Freeze

House to Vote on Fed Pay Freeze

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This story has been updated. 

The House Thursday afternoon paved the way for a full vote Friday on a bill that would extend the federal pay freeze through 2013.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., along with 28 cosponsors, wants to prolong the current pay freeze for civilian government employees through the end of the year. President Obama issued an executive order on Dec. 27, 2012, that would end the two-year salary freeze on March 27 — when the current continuing resolution expires — and give civilian federal workers a 0.5 percent raise in 2013. DeSantis’ move to block the order also applies to lawmakers, but Congress already voted to freeze its pay in 2013 in the fiscal cliff legislation signed into law in January. Continue reading “House to Vote on Fed Pay Freeze”

Federal employee groups laud Obama victory, seek to end pay freeze

Federal employee groups laud Obama victory, seek to end pay freeze

President Obama’s reelection was hailed by major federal employee groups as a vindication of the view of government as a force for good, urging lame-duck lawmakers as they confront the fiscal cliff to acknowledge the contributions government workers have already made to deficit reduction.

“Leading our nation through one of the most difficult times in our history, President Obama plied a steady hand at the wheel and kept us on track,” said William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 110,000 federal employees in 40 agencies. “Within government, he has taken innovative approaches to improving workforce morale, efficiency, and productivity” while involving employees in decision making. Continue reading “Federal employee groups laud Obama victory, seek to end pay freeze”