Disaster Supplemental Must Do Better by Taxpayers

Letter To The HillDisaster Supplemental Must Do Better by TaxpayersRemove the extraneous provisions, do better by taxpayers.

Budget & Tax,  | Quick Take
Dec 21, 2017  | 6 min read | Print Article

Taxpayers for Common Sense sent the following letter to the U.S. Senate in response to the Disaster Supplemental, which we have found to be a classic case of “haste makes waste.”

Dear Senator,

Yesterday the House passed a more than $80 billion disaster supplemental spending bill that was first released Monday evening. This will be one of the first items facing you in January.

Taxpayers for Common Sense has analyzed the Disaster Supplemental that the Appropriations Committee released late Monday night and prepared a spreadsheet of all the nearly $81 billion in funding. In addition, TCS notes that the bill contains a non-disaster related enormous giveaway to the nation’s cotton growers.This will cost taxpayers today and in the next farm bill.

There are also other spending provisions that should be in regular appropriations rather than in an emergency spending bill. The package also includes disaster policy reforms, many of which TCS supports. However, it also includes a provision that while intended to entice states and localities to adopt better policies and planning will likely increase federal share of all disaster spending to 85 percent.

Furthermore, these reforms have not been considered by the entire House before and there is no Senate companion. TCS urges Senators to develope a better constructed package in 2018.

Among Taxpayers for Common Sense’s concerns:

This legislation continues a concerning pattern where cost-sharing for post-disaster Corps of Engineer projects is eliminated. Typically, shore protection projects such as beach re-nourishment (dredging and pumping sand on beaches) have a 35 to 50 percent non-federal cost-share. These projects can be built, eroded, and rebuilt several times over 50 year periods. This bill contains more than $10 billion that can be used on these projects until expended.

Eliminating the cost-share for future re-nourishment (after initial construction) means the funding will not build as many projects and put the program on auto-pilot for years if not decades. To put the funding level in perspective, the Corps of Engineers received less than $2 billion in construction funding for the entire country in fiscal year 2016. That included funding for navigation, flood and storm damage reduction, and environmental restoration.

The bill also contains nearly $1.4 billion in federal highway funds that can be used to fund road repair from natural disasters anywhere in the country. Not only is this funding not limited to the areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, it also does not appear to be tied to Major Disaster Declaration.

The bill also includes $26 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds. There is $12.5 billion for a new Community Development Block Grant program. This mitigation-oriented CDBG is in addition to a $13.5 billion disaster recovery (CDBG-DR) one that is similar to those typically created after a natural disaster. TCS has long expressed concerns that, unlike CDBG, there is no statutory basis for CDBG-DR and so it lacks consistency and oversight from Administration to Administration and Congress to Congress.

This new CDBG-mitigation suffers from the same flaw and it is unclear how it will be administered and appears to be targeted to areas that have received CDBG-DR funds from Superstorm Sandy (2012) going forward. Analysis has shown that every dollar in mitigation spending reduces future disaster spending by four dollars. TCS supports using disaster funds to “pre-spond” to future disasters, but believes this program should be more thoroughly developed and targeted.

Finally, while many agencies funded by the legislation receive additional funds for oversight from their respective Inspector Generals, there is not an overarching special or lead Inspector General (as was the case after Katrina) or central location for taxpayers to see how their tax dollars are being spent in recovery (as was intended to be the case after Sandy).

Furthermore, the Appropriations Committees will be receiving many reports how funds are intended to be and actually spent. Those should all be made public along with a website tracking the funding. If this bill is enacted, the total disaster spending in 2017 will be more than double the funding approved after Sandy. Taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent to respond to these disasters.

Again, Taxpayers for Common Sense supports well-constructed, targeted disaster assistance to affected individuals, communities, and States as well as significant investment in mitigation that drives down future disaster costs.The package before the House does not represent that and should be rewritten in 2018.

Ryan Alexander
President, Taxpayers for Common Sense

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