House GOP to advance $1 billion disaster aid package

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | 5:55 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of Sunday's devastating tornado in Joplin, Republicans controlling the House are preparing a $1 billion aid package to make sure federal disaster relief accounts don't run out before the end of the budget year in September.

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said the move would ensure that there's enough money for victims of the Joplin tornado as well as those suffering from flooding in the Mississippi Basin and from tornadoes that swept across Alabama last month.

The additional money would make sure that ongoing relief efforts aren't interrupted, as new disaster relief efforts get under way across the South and Midwest.

Aderholt said that the House Appropriations Committee will cut spending elsewhere in the budget to fund the disaster relief. A committee spokeswoman said the panel was likely to cut a loan program to encourage the production of fuel-efficient vehicles.

The move comes as the House Appropriations Committee kicks off action on a round of 12 spending bills for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Panel spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said that the disaster aid measure may advance as a separate, emergency measure.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees disaster relief efforts, has plenty of disaster recovery money for immediate needs like food, debris cleanup and temporary shelter.

Lawmakers in both parties said the Obama administration has shortchanged FEMA, which faces a shortfall of $3 billion or more even before the bills come in from the recent wave of disasters.

The Obama administration only requested $1.8 billion for the budget year that begins in October, less than half of what will be needed to deal with recovery costs of past disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and the massive Tennessee floods of last spring even as the next wave of bills come in. Authorities are beginning to evaluate the damage and don't have estimates of recovery costs.

Aderholt said additional aid may be needed but that it's impossible to know what the ultimate cost will be.

"There's so much assessment that's not been done," Aderholt said.

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