In order to increase military funding, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget included big cuts to domestic programs. Agencies that would see diminished funding include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the National Weather Service.
With Texas and Louisiana residents and businesses facing months, perhaps years, of cleanup and rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey hit the area last month and Hurricane Irma barrelling down on Florida, this is increasingly looking like a mistake.
And, it is not just hurricanes. Dozens of wildfires are burning in western states. In Montana alone, almost 1 million acres have burned, destroying homes and portions of Glacier National Park. Smoke is so thick in parts of Oregon and Washington that it blots out the sun.
The scale of these disasters is so great that no state, even economic powerhouses like California and Texas, can take care of them on their own. The federal government is the only entity with the resources — largely financial, but also human — to coordinate and sustain the necessary response, which ranges from rescuing people to helping businesses reopen.
Federal agencies, as they are supposed to, are playing leading roles in predicting natural disasters, minimizing damage when possible and cleaning up after the danger has passed.
If this summer is any indication — and it likely is as temperatures rise, both on land and in the ocean — the federal government needs to spend more money on disaster preparation, mitigation and relief, not less.
Already the U.S. House has approved $7.4 billion in disaster relief funding for FEMA to continue post-Harvey work, which Trump has praised on Twitter. The agency said it was close to running out of money as it continued to coordinate the response to Hurricane Harvey. The Senate on Thursday passed a $15 billion aid bill that also raised the national debt ceiling. The Senate bill includes $7.4 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing grants in areas affected by Harvey.
Some of the smartest government investments will come well before disasters happen. Measuring changes in the U.S. climate is vital to understanding how storms like Harvey and Irma grow into massive hurricanes and why fires are becoming more prevalent. Trump’s budget would cut funding for four NASA missions that would do this work.
The budget also proposed cuts to NOAA programs that help coastal communities plan for flooding and other weather events.
The budget would also reduce funding for the National Weather Service to improve its weather models. Its forecasts and warnings are vital for both federal and state officials, as they decide whether to issue evacuation orders and take other steps to protect people, before, during and after storms.
After the fires are put out and hurricane flood waters recede, other federal agencies will take over. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, another target of Trump’s budget cutting knife, will help residents find housing. The Small Business Administration, which the House has allocated an additional $450 million, will help businesses rebuild and restart. The Environmental Protection Agency, which would see its funding cut by a third under the Trump budget, must evaluate whether public health is threatened by damaged facilities. The list goes on and on. And, so does the need for federal funding.
It is trite, but as the saying goes, no one appreciates the federal government until they need it. This summer, we’ve been reminded repeatedly of its importance, and the need to fund its work.