Tester: Congress must not abandon emergency funding as flood damage increases
After U.S. House cuts, Tester ‘alarmed’ by looming shortfall for Disaster Relief Fund
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today said Congress should “stand up and do its part” to protect jobs by ensuring sufficient emergency relief funding in the wake of widespread flooding across the state.
“Montanans will continue to be resilient and they will continue looking out for one another,” Tester told his colleagues today. “But there are some burdens that are simply too big for them to bear alone.”
Tester said Montana has reported at least $8.6 million in damages so far. The total will rise as mountain snowpack melts.
With 45 presidentially declared disasters around the country, some estimates have suggested that FEMA will run out of money to fund reconstruction projects in December. If FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund is exhausted, any rebuilding project in Montana not completed by then may not be funded. However, a bad hurricane season and other disasters could cause the fund to run out faster.
“It it is critical that we do everything we can on behalf of the communities and families across our nation who are simply looking to pick up the pieces,” Tester said. “When small businesses can't back on their feet and when our number one industry—agriculture—gets a punch during the growing season—our entire economy could be knocked down.”
Tester specifically pointed by a recent decision by U.S. House Appropriations Committee, which voted to gut the federal emergency response budget, even after flooding and deadly tornadoes have led to disasters across the country—including in Montana.
“The House thinks we should pay for past disasters with funding allocated for current and future disasters, and by cutting assistance to firefighters and other first responders,” Tester said, calling the decision “irresponsible.”
“Let's make sure this nation’s emergency responders have what they need to do their jobs. They are doing their part, for all of us,” Tester added.
Video of today’s floor speech is available HERE. Tester’s remarks as prepared for delivery appear below.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Madame President, over the past few months, severe flooding has destroyed Montana homes and businesses.
It has devastated farmland and ranchland. It has displaced families across our state.
The flooding has tested thousands of Montanans—and the basic services and infrastructure they rely on every day.
But when disaster hits Montana, we know how to rise to the occasion.
When I meet with the families and community leaders affected by flooding, and when I tour their towns, I don’t see resignation or hopelessness. I see resilience. I see our traditions of hard work and working together.
I see communities rebuilding and moving forward—ordinary people and local officials working diligently with local, state and federal partners to address urgent and ongoing needs they are unable to address alone.
Thanks to that spirit of working together, neighbor to neighbor, Montana communities are rebuilding and businesses are reopening.
We're looking to account for the severe crop damage and livestock loss suffered by Montana farmers and ranchers.
And we're looking for resources to make up for the $8.6 million in damages to our state’s infrastructure.
Sadly, that number is only getting bigger.
Montana's resiliency is going to be tested because we’re not out of the clear. Not even close. Given the unusually significant snowpack high in the Rocky Mountains that has yet to melt, our rivers and streams will continue to swell.
The costs to Montana communities and families will continue to mount, and more and more of them will look to emergency assistance to provide timely services and assistance to those most in need to help them get back on their feet.
That is why I am particularly alarmed by the looming shortfall in FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, which the House left dangerously unfunded even amid a string of weather-related disasters across the country that has lead us to 45 declared disasters.
We are now looking at estimates of a $2-to-nearly-$5 billion dollar shortfall for Fiscal Year 2012 alone. The total need is estimated to be as much as $6.6 billion.
Montana is still tallying up the damage. The risk of further damage is still very high.
And yet we do not know right now if there will be enough money left over to meet the needs this disaster has already created in our state.
The House thinks we should pay for past disasters with funding allocated for current and future disasters, and by cutting assistance to firefighters and other first responders.
Madame President, in Roundup, Billings and elsewhere in Montana, the folks who are rescuing stranded residents in boats to take them to get urgent medical care aren’t from FEMA.
They are the same men and women who fight to protect our communities every day. The cops and firefighters who are a part of these communities.
Taking away the resources they need won't fly—it is irresponsible. And unacceptable.
I want all of my colleagues to understand the importance of what we're facing. Not just in Montana. But across the country.
There are 45 declared disasters around the country.
It's time to do our part for communities all across the country who are facing unprecedented disasters, from floods to tornadoes to wildfires.
Let's make sure this nation's emergency responders have what they need to do their jobs. They are doing their part, for all of us.
Tough economic times have forced us all into some very tough decisions. There’s no doubt about that.
But it is critical that we do everything we can on behalf of the communities and families across our nation who are simply looking to pick up the pieces. To rebuild their homes, schools and businesses, and to get back on their feet. When small businesses can't back on their feet and when our number one economy—agriculture—get a gut punch during the growing season—our entire economy could be knocked down.
Montanans will continue to be resilient and they will continue looking out for one another. But there are some burdens that are simply too big for them to bear alone. It is time for Congress to stand up and do its part. The sooner the better.
I look forward to working with Chairman Landrieu and Ranking Member Coats on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee to make sure that no community in Montana—or anywhere else in the country—is left wondering if the government will make good on its commitment to help them rebuild.
Thank you, Madame President. I yield the floor.