State of the Facts
The federal government provides natural disaster support in three main ways: emergency assistance funding for clean-up and restoration after a disaster, preparedness funding to improve emergency responses to a disaster and mitigation funding to reduce loss associated with future disasters.
Between 2005 and 2017, FEMA spent $81 billion on natural disaster relief. A total of $37 billion went towards preparedness and mitigation for future disasters. Here’s how we’re spending on preparedness and mitigation.
A higher proportion of natural disaster spending is directed into emergency spending allocated for after-disaster services including debris removal, infrastructure repairs, and emergency protective measures, as compared to pre-disaster spending to improve preparedness and mitigation.
Natural disaster spending tends to be more reactionary than pro-active, with more money directed towards reacting to natural disasters than preventing loss and damage as a result of them.
Among non-emergency spending types there are also variations, with more money generally directed into natural disaster preparedness, focusing on improving emergency responses, then mitigation, focusing on limiting losses from natural disasters.
Except for 2011, more money was directed at natural disaster preparedness as opposed to mitigation every year since 2005. One of the reasons 2011 might not follow this spending pattern is that it experienced 241 declared natural disasters, the most of any year between 2005 and 2017. The way mitigation assistance spending is structured encourages an increase in mitigation spending following a natural disaster, meaning the more natural disasters there are each year, the more spending is directed towards mitigation.
There are three central programs FEMA sponsors to provide funding for mitigation assistance: the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program (FMAP) and the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program (PMGP).
Of these three programs, spending on HMGP comprises over 80% of total mitigation spending. HMGP provides funding for mitigation projects in each region after that region experiences a natural disaster. By comparison, the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program and Flood Mitigation Program, which are not tied to the occurrence of a natural disaster, received less than $1 billion in funding between 2007 and 2016.
The fact that most mitigation funding is directed towards the HGMP is part of the reason mitigation spending increases significantly in the year of a high cost natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina (2005) or Hurricane Sandy (2013) as well as part of the reason mitigation spending rose above preparedness spending in 2011.
In addition to the three central programs, between 2008 and 2012 two other programs were also a part of the FEMA Mitigation Assistance program. The Repetitive Flood Claim (RFC) program provided funding to reduce risk of flood damage to structures insured by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that had at least one claim payment for flood damages. Finally, the Severe Repetitive Loss (SRL) program provided funding to reduce or eliminate risk of flood damage to structures insured by the NFIP that had multiple claim payments as a result of severe property loss. According to FEMA’s mitigation assistance dataset there was no federal spending on either program after 2012.
All states receive some mitigation assistance funding, but 5 states - Louisiana, Texas, New York, California and Florida - received 54% all mitigation spending between 2006 and 2017. Louisiana received the largest sum of over $2.4 billion, likely due to Hurricane Katrina. Texas received the second largest sum of $1.45 billion.
The data described above focuses on federal spending, disbursed through FEMA. However, state and local governments also allocate funds for disaster assistance. States are required to share costs with FEMA when receiving grants through the federal agency, and some states also have their own disaster relief and mitigation programs.
State spending, however, tends to vary on an annual basis and most states do not comprehensively track natural disaster spending, meaning any examination of state and local natural disaster spending would be incomplete.
Although federal spending is tracked by FEMA, it can also at times be incomplete. This is largely because natural disaster spending, including mitigation spending, is largely responsive rather than planned spending. As opposed to being included in the annual budget, many disaster relief and preparedness programs are funded through emergency appropriations bills.
The effectiveness of this funding structure is currently being debated in Congress through discussion surrounding the proposed Budgeting for Disasters Act.
The way natural disaster funding is currently dispersed, money tends to be spent in the wake of disasters rather than in anticipation of disasters.
Mitigation and preparedness spending together comprise a smaller portion of natural disaster spending than emergency natural disaster funding that is dispersed to help manage damage from a natural disaster and mitigation spending tends to occur in a region after that region is impacted by a natural disaster.
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