More Information Monday: Natural Disasters and Government Aid

More Information Monday: Natural Disasters and Government Aid

This week we look at the Natural Disasters affecting the U.S. and what the Government aid looks like!


What is going on right now!?!?!

Currently in the U.S., Mother Nature is wreaking havoc on all sides of the country.  Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and the Gulf Coast.  Then two weeks later, Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean, Florida, and the southeast U.S. This is the first time in U.S. history that two Category 4 (the ranking system for Hurricanes – 5 is the highest) storms have hit in the same year.

While this was all going on, there have been massive wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  This is causing smoke and ash to fall down on people, homes, and cars like snow.

Source: 4 and 5


What does it mean when a “state of emergency” is declared?

Very often you will hear that governors have declared a “state of emergency” after or even before something occurs in their state.  A governor will do this because once it is declared, a number of things can then happen: authorization for state funding, evacuations, activation of the state’s National Guard and emergency operation plans (needed if they need FEMA funding later – see below for more on FEMA).  It allows the governor to suspend or modify laws and codes (i.e. weight and height exemptions for trucks carrying relief supplies, number of people allowed on boats, highway directions changed to allow more people to leave, etc.).  Each state has its own rules and meanings for this and are not intended to last long term.  

Basically, it’s a way for a state to say “we are in a major situation and we are going to need some help and operate differently for a little while.”

Source: 6 and 7


How does FEMA work?  Aren’t they supposed to fix everything?  Why do I hear so many bad things about them?

FEMA stands for Federal Emergency Management Agency and their mission is to help citizens prepare, protect, respond and recover from all hazards.  FEMA was majorly in the news back in 2005 when their response to Hurricane Katrina was drastically unprepared and mismanaged.  In 2006, they enacted numerous reforms based over 40 recommendations for improvements following the Katrina disaster.  They have since been working after each natural disaster to improve how they hand out aid, funds, and help areas recover.  

Basically, they are put in place to help with evacuations and rescue efforts.  They then work to provide people with food and water and other basic needs.  They also assist in locating temporary housing/stipends for hotels and funds for home repairs.

Source: 2 and 9


Does the government help those who are hit by natural disasters?

Yes.  FEMA receives a set amount of money each fiscal year as part of the national budget.  After a large national disaster (hurricane, floods, tornados, fires, etc), Congress will pass an emergency spending bill that opens funds toward FEMA’s disaster relief, the Small Business Association’s (SBA) loan program and the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants.  The bill that was just passed to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, also had appropriations for those battling the fires in the Pacific Northwest.  These funds will provide money for food and temporary housing to those who are displaced.  It will go to loans for small businesses to help them rebuild.  Also, the funds go towards paying for infrastructure and other needs (i.e. roads, bridges, firetrucks) that have to be repaired and/or replaced after a natural disaster.  It also goes to help replenish the various departments and agencies that come in to help (i.e. U.S. Forest Service, Dept. of Transportation, etc.)

Source: 1, 3, 6 and 10


Why does Congress need to debate relief packages?  Isn’t helping people a given?!  

When emergency relief bills are put forth in Congress, they often are not singularly focused and often have other agenda items attached them so that it all gets passed under one vote.  Often Representatives will oppose the relief bill because of the additional items included, not the aid given to those affected by the natural disaster.

For example, the relief bill for Hurricane Harvey also had a provision that would raise the debt ceiling (Simple Sourced: The Debt Ceiling is basically how much the U.S. can borrow – think of it like our limit on a credit card and choosing not to raise the debt ceiling would mean that we can’t pay for the things that we need.  It’s obviously more complicated, but basically raising the debt limit allows us to continue to borrow money).  They set deadlines for when these limits run out and if they don’t enact changes, federal programs will shut down.  

One of the programs that would have expired if the government shutdown would have been The National Flood Insurance Program which is going to have millions of claims coming in following these two hurricanes.

Source: 1, 3 and 8


Join us tomorrow to see what some of the debates are regarding natural disasters and government aid!



1: Detrow, Scott. “Why Approving Emergency Funding For Harvey Might Not Be Easy For Congress.”, 30 Aug. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

2: Naylor, Brian. “With Harvey And Now Irma, Federal Funds And FEMA Are Put To The Test.”, 8 Sept. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

3: Desjardins, Lisa. “How the U.S. funds disaster recovery and what it means for Harvey relief.” PBS Newshour, 1 Sept. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

4: Stevens, Matt. “Pacific Northwest Fires Smother Region in Smoke and Ash.” The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

5: Dolce, Chris. “Hurricanes Irma and Harvey Mark the First Time Two Atlantic Category 4 U.S. Landfalls Have Occurred in the Same Year.” The Weather Channel, 10 Sept. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

6: Mapes, Jeff. “Western Wildfire Funding Attached To Hurricane Harvey Relief Bill.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, 7 Sept. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

7: Chaney, Eric. “What Is a State of Emergency, and Why Is One Declared?” The Weather Channel, 2 Oct. 2015, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

8: Cary, John. “The Debt Ceiling Explained.” No Labels, 31 May 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

9: Rich, Alex K. and Marlanda English. “FEMA Response to Hurricane Katrina: An Overview.” Points of View: Hurricane Katrina/FEMA, 3/1/2016, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

10: “Natural Disaster Response: Should the federal government play a role in natural disaster response?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 10 Oct. 2011, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.