Now's a good time to talk about FEMA cuts


During last night's debate between Maggie Brooks and Louise Slaughter, WROC anchor Maureen McGuire asked the candidates whether, in light of Hurricane Sandy, they'd supporting cutting funding for or eliminating FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Both candidates said they want to keep FEMA intact and preserve its funding. But Brooks' response had another element; she tossed out the idea that now's not the time to be talking about what either presidential candidate or Congressional leaders want to do with FEMA. Brooks said:

"What concerns me is that we haven't even recovered from Hurricane Sandy — we still have devastated areas in downstate, we still have a lot of people who are displaced from their homes and are struggling and need our help right now — and already we are seeing Democrats and Republicans in Washington talk about who's going to cut money from FEMA. It's already become a political football. and I think that's unfortunate because at a time of disaster we need the government — the federal government — to step in and respond to those requests for assistance as quickly as possible. We don't have time to sit here and discuss who's going to cut what from the program. We need the federal government to be there and to provide that assistance so that our families can get back on their feet and get back to normal as quickly as possible."

I agree with some of Brooks' points. When people have been affected by a disaster and need help, the government absolutely must respond as fast and effectively as it can. And Brooks is clear that she wants FEMA to be spared from cuts for that very reason.

What bothers me is her notion that now is not the time to talk about politicians' plans for FEMA. Now is the perfect time to talk about that, while FEMA is in the spotlight and its successes, failures, and needs will be clearly visible to the public. (Likewise, now's the time for politicians to talk about and act on climate change adaptation.)

What's there to discuss? In the short term, if Congress doesn't pass a budget by January, FEMA could lose $900 million in funding. In the long term, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both want to take away some degree of funding for the agency. Their plans are a bit complicated — and Romney's lacks detail — but the Washington Post has a brief but helpful explanation here. Though in a Post article published today, Romney says he "will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs."

In the five days that remain before the election, FEMA funding should be one of many issues discussed by House and Senate candidates.