BUT, WHAT IF?
Following news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had enough funding available to sustain disaster relief efforts through the end of the current Fiscal Year on Friday, the Senate reached a deal Tuesday night to fund the federal government through November 18th. FEMA's announcement that it would not require additional funding to continue relief operations this week defused a potential confrontation between Senate Democrats and House Republicans over how to provide additional disaster relief funding. Republicans had insisted that emergency funding be offset by cuts to other federal programs, while Democrats argued that disaster relief funds should not require a specific offset. By pre-empting the need to provide funding in Fiscal Year 2011 for disaster relief, FEMA's declaration enabled Congress to avoid the issue of offsetting disaster funding and allow FEMA to begin immediately drawing down its Fiscal Year 2012 funding on Saturday.
With the House in recess this week and the Fiscal Year ending on Friday, there was concern that Congress would be unable to pass a stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown on Saturday. The two bills approved by the Senate on Tuesday will allow the House to remain on recess while keeping the government running. The first bill, which is expected to be approved this week by voice vote in the House, will provide federal funding through the end of next week. The second bill, which the House is expected to debate when it returns next week, would extend funds through November 18th. Both bills enforce the cap on Fiscal Year 2012 spending that was agreed to in the debt ceiling debate. The House and Senate are expected to put forth an omnibus bill to fund the federal government through the rest of Fiscal Year 2012 within the next few months, and to try and pass this legislation by the November 18th deadline.
But, what if FEMA had not found enough funding left to get them through the rest of this Fiscal Year while aiding victims of disasters that have already occurred? Either the federal government would have to borrow the money if it were declared emergency spending, or an offset would need to be found elsewhere within the federal budget - one that could very well at some point be taken from a program that benefits park agencies. Like other local agencies in disaster-impacted areas, park and recreation agencies share in local disaster recovery efforts, including debris cleanup and repairs. What are you willing to give up to fund disaster recovery efforts? Would you rather see the federal government declare all disaster aid as emergency spending and continue to raise the deficit, or would you rather Congress provide offsets for these disasters, even it means that such funds would come from accounts that are of great benefit to your local needs?
By Jon Wisbey, The Ferguson Group
Leslie Mozingo, Contributer, The Ferguson Group