The Trump administration is sitting on tens of billions of dollars in unspent money meant to help Americans recover from disasters, leaving people less able to rebound from the effects of Hurricane Dorian and other storms.
As of June 30, the government had spent less than one-third of the $107 billion provided by Congress following the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 and 2018, federal data show. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which received $37 billion — more than any other agency — had spent less than $75 million.
That money is meant to help cities and states rebuild after a disaster. It is often used to fix roads, drainage systems and other infrastructure, or to repair or elevate houses in low-lying, vulnerable areas.
The funds are being held up partly by laws designed in an earlier age of fewer and less-severe disasters. In addition, states and cities already reeling from earlier floods or fires often struggle to meet the federal bureaucratic requirements. As climate change amplifies the disaster risk, the logjam threatens to worsen.
“If we had all the money, and everything was flowing, we would be safer,” said Laura Hogshead, chief operating officer for the Office of Recovery and Resiliency in North Carolina, a state now being menaced by Hurricane Dorian. This year, the state created a new office to try to speed up those funds — a model that Dorian could test.
“There’s a lot of suffering while you wait,” she said.
The bulk of the money comes from just two federal offices: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps communities recover from disasters by funding everything from clearing debris to rebuilding hospitals, and HUD, which helps repair homes, infrastructure and businesses.
Some delays are unavoidable, such as those associated with sprawling infrastructure projects — like building sea walls or deepening ports — requiring complex environmental reviews. But many other delays stem from a bureaucratic process for delivering federal money, coupled with state and local agencies that often lack the staff or expertise to spend it, observers say.
“There are opportunities to make the recovery process faster at every level,” said Marion McFadden, who ran the disaster recovery grants at HUD during the Obama administration. “We’ve got to fix this.”
New York Times