- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A House panel on Tuesday proposed $1 billion in emergency disaster relief money to ensure that aid to tornado and flood victims in the South and Midwest doesn’t run dry.

The extra money would be offset by a spending cut elsewhere, keeping with a pledge by the Republican-controlled House to rein in government spending.

“There is a time and place to apply emergency funding,” said Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, an Alabama Republican who sponsored the provision. “If the recent disasters that have affected the South and Midwest aren’t emergencies, then what are?”

The House Appropriations Committee included the money in an overall Homeland Security Department funding bill for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The amendment was approved on a simple voice vote.

The full House and Senate must approve the emergency package before the money can be allocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund.

The extra FEMA money would be offset by rescinding a $1.5 billion Energy Department program to encourage the production of fuel-efficient vehicles that Mr. Aderholt called “grossly underutilized.”

“This amendment does not abuse the emergency [spending] designation,” he said. “Let’s put these funds to real use and help our constituents get back on their feet and rebuild their homes.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Monday that if Congress passed an emergency spending bill to help Missouri’s tornado victims, the money would have to be cut from somewhere else.

Even if the $1 billion provision clears Congress and becomes law, it likely wouldn’t be enough to solve FEMA’s financial woes.

The agency this year estimated a $3 billion shortfall unless Congress increases the $1.8 billion that President Obama proposed for the Disaster Relief Fund for 2012.

With a destructive rash of storms, tornadoes and floods, some estimates have the fund running dry before the end of September, when the budget year ends.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday — in addition to the emergency funding — approved $2.65 billion for the fund for the upcoming fiscal year — the same amount Congress allocated last year.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, has been pushing Mr. Obama for an emergency FEMA spending bill.

Out of $131 billion that Congress appropriated for the Disaster Relief Program in the past 20 years, $110 billion was approved as emergency spending, a Landrieu aide said.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about an emergency supplemental” spending bill, the aide said.

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