Can We Afford to Play Politics with Disaster Relief?

My heart goes out to my neighbors and friends in Fernville and the rest of the area that were hit hardest by this disaster.  I have witnessed an amazing response by so many individuals and organizations.  I’m proud to be a member of a community that is willing to help others in tough times.  It’s these values and principals that bind a community like ours together.I was amazed to see the initial clean up effort that occurred in Fernville soon after the flood — people and machinery working to clear debris, the American Red Cross offering food and water, meals being served in a food pavilion set up in the park, door-to-door delivery of cleaning supplies, and neighbors helping neighbors.  All of it was truly inspiring.  But now that destroyed homes are officially off-limits and owners are not allowed to enter them, a “wait and see” attitude has set in.  It is a shame to see the homes along Drinker Street in Fernville sit derelict.

As I have been contemplating the possible scenarios regarding destroyed homes, I started to think about the subject in relation to national politics.  And what I came up with is that I don’t know how people will be able to afford the demolition of their destroyed homes and other associated costs without assistance.  My assumption is that most people in flooded areas are going to struggle to afford it.  And specifically, I’m concerned about exactly who is going to pay for demolishing the property and making the land clean and safe again.

With budgets being cut on the federal and state levels, I fear that our local government is eventually going to be forced to pick up the tab.  It was just a few weeks ago that Congress (at the last second) appropriated funds to keep FEMA afloat.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has argued that equal cuts need to be made elsewhere before allocating more funds to programs like FEMA.  Fortunately, for our local flood victims collecting FEMA monies, the argument failed to persuade lawmakers.  A legislative gridlock on this issue could have had a very close-up and personal effect on our community.

But if the political trend continues to slash mandatory spending in our federal programs such as aid to flood victims, then we may be faced with shifting this burden to state and local government. Earlier this year, many Republicans wanted to slash next year’s FEMA budget by 55%.  We may need to find revenue elsewhere, or be forced to raise local taxes, to aid in current and future recovery efforts if the responsibility is left to local government.

Just look at how much Bloomsburg spent on the curb side removal of trash.  Estimates put the figure at several hundred thousand dollars. The numbers add up quickly and it is an overwhelming burden to put on a small community like ours.

This is the reason we have federal and state assistance.  I strongly believe the federal and state emergency funding systems need to stay in place. Keep in mind, if we don’t have FEMA or PEMA, there won’t be any “buy outs.”

That being said, not all of the money needed is coming from the government.  Donations have been pouring in from all over.  First Columbia Bank donated $100,000 to flood relief.  Many more business have also contributed.  Individuals like former resident Gary Hock have contributed.  Gary donated $100,000 of his own money to the relief effort.

But is it smart or responsible to rely on the generosity of individuals to get us out of this mess?  I have profound appreciation and admiration for those contributing their time and money to the relief effort.   But can we expect these individuals and businesses to donate money to the next disaster?  My hope is that our community, with help from our state and federal governments, will be able to help those with destroyed homes sooner rather than later.

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