FEMA: Ready for Florence even af­ter $10M trans­fer

Some ques­tion mov­ing money to ICE ef­forts

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Led­yard King and Christal Hayes

WASH­ING­TON – A se­nior of­fi­cial at the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency said the agency is well po­si­tioned to re­spond to Hur­ri­cane Florence, de­spite a re­port that nearly $10 mil­lion was trans­ferred this sum­mer to help boost U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

“We have plenty of re­sources to re­spond. We have plenty of re­sources to re­cover,” Jeff Byard, FEMA’s as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor for re­sponse and re­cov­ery, said Wed­nes­day morn­ing. “That has not im­pacted our sit­u­a­tion what­so­ever.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Ore­gon Demo­crat, shared doc­u­ments de­tail­ing the trans­fer on MSNBC Tues­day night, as Hur­ri­cane Florence bore down on the North and South Carolina coasts.

Merkley told USA TO­DAY late Tues­day that the trans­fer was “in­cred­i­bly ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

Af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion of last year’s storms – the triple wal­lop of Hur­ri­canes Maria, Har­vey and Irma – FEMA should have the funds it needs to be pre­pared for an­other dis­as­trous hur­ri­cane season.

“It’s al­most guar­an­teed to hap­pen again,” said Merkley, a mem­ber of the Se­nate Appropriations Com­mit­tee, which over­sees and ap­proves fed­eral spend­ing.

The trans­fer to ICE is an es­pe­cially sore point with Democrats, who have been bat­tling the ad­min­is­tra­tion on the de­ten­tion and forced sep­a­ra­tion of im­mi­grant fam­i­lies cross­ing the border.

“This is yet an­other ex­am­ple of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s out­ra­geously mis­placed home­land se­cu­rity pri­or­i­ties,” said Rep. Ben­nie Thomp­son of Mis­sis­sippi, the top Demo­crat on the House Com­mit­tee on Home­land Se­cu­rity. “We have a pres­i­dent who cares more about lock­ing up fam­i­lies seek­ing asy­lum and putting kids in cages than en­sur­ing FEMA has ev­ery re­source nec­es­sary to pre­pare for and re­spond to dis­as­ters.”

The bud­get­ing doc­u­ment, “De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity FY 2018 trans­fer and re­pro­gram­ming no­ti­fi­ca­tions,” in­di­cates that $9,755,303 was taken from FEMA, about 0.9 per­cent of the agency’s listed over­all bud­get, and given to sup­port ICE.

Money was also taken from other agen­cies, in­clud­ing mil­lions from the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Coast Guard, to help ICE, the doc­u­ment shows.

FEMA, TSA, ICE and the Coast Guard are all agen­cies within the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

In a tweet Tues­day night, DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houl­ton said the money came from FEMA’s rou­tine op­er­at­ing ex­penses and “could not have been used for hur­ri­cane re­sponse due to ap­pro­pri­a­tion lim­i­ta­tions.”

The lat­est monthly re­port on the Dis­as­ter Re­lief Fund shows more than $26.5 bil­lion in the ac­count as of Aug. 31.

Byard called the amount in the fund “healthy.”

“We have no con­cerns,” he said. News of the bud­get trans­fer comes sev­eral weeks af­ter FEMA ac­knowl­edged staffing short­ages and lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges in re­spond­ing to Hur­ri­cane Maria last year in Puerto Rico. Nearly 3,000 peo­ple died in the storm and its af­ter­math.

JACK GRU­BER/USA TO­DAY

Work­ers pre­pare City Hall in Charleston, S.C., on Wed­nes­day be­fore Hur­ri­cane Florence ar­rives.

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