FEMA says it’s in good position for response
But some questioning $10M transfer to ICE
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 on 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.
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.”
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.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long said the agency has learned from last year and will be better prepared to confront disasters this year.
“FEMA began incorporating lessons in real time as they were identified and continues to do so to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season,” Long wrote in a column last month for USA TODAY. “We have substantially increased stockpiles of resources across the nation, focusing on remote, hardto-reach locations.”
“That has not impacted our situation whatsoever.”
Jeff Byard FEMA’s associate administrator for response and recovery, on the $10 million transfer to ICE