If Donald Trump makes good on his threat to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t give him his border wall, the recovery effort in the Gulf wouldn’t be shuttered, but it would be seriously hampered. And the billions of dollars that are going to be necessary to help the region in the immediate aftermath could just not be there. In a shutdown, government agencies have to determine which employees are and are not essential. Federal Emergency Management Agency workers doing relief work post-Harvey would definitely be essential, but FEMA would still have to deal with the shutdown.
Daniel Watson was the spokesman for FEMA in 2013, the last time the government shut down. At the time, the agency was helping Colorado recover from massive floods. Watson said the agency’s response work was not impacted, but FEMA did have to devote resources to dealing with the shutdown, rather than focusing all its attention on disaster relief.
“The biggest impact was FEMA needing to take all these additional steps that you don’t usually have to do ― identifying, ‘Oh, does this person need to be here or not,’ rather than just doing the job,” Watson said.
The bigger issue with FEMA is what happens with its Disaster Relief Fund, which could soon run out of money unless Congress appropriates more. FEMA gives out two types of assistance: public (which goes to governments) and individual (checks directly to individuals to cover damages). All that money comes from the Disaster Relief Fund.
According to FEMA’s most recent report, issued in early August, the fund will have between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion at the end of September. That likely will not be nearly enough for Harvey.
As a comparison, about a month after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, FEMA had already sent out around $1.9 billion.
Oh, and the National Flood Insurance Program, which also has to be reauthorized by the end of September, has used up $24 billion of its $30 billion borrowing limit. Trump’s border wall game has always been dangerous, particularly to the Latinos and people of color his policies and his rhetoric target. If he continues to insist on his wall, it’s the entire Gulf region that he’s threatening.