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Conrad, Hoeven Push for Disaster Aid

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) are urging Appropriations Committee leaders to include emergency supplemental funding as part of their fiscal 2012 work.

With the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s coffers drying up — the agency has less than $800 million left to cover potentially billions in damages — and the administration requesting more than $5 billion in disaster funds not including costs for Hurricane Irene, Congress may need to act swiftly to ensure that funds are available. The two North Dakota Senators hope to gin up bipartisan support for their letter when Members return to Washington early next week, Conrad’s office confirmed.

“Virtually every time disaster occurs, Congress provides supplemental funding to help those who have been hardest hit. In that vein, we now ask that you consider providing supplemental appropriations for disaster recovery programs as you write your Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills,” the Senators wrote in a draft letter to Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Conrad and Hoeven, the former North Dakota governor, suggested that Congress consider appropriating additional funds to the Community Development Block Grant program — one of the longest running initiatives that supports local infrastructure projects, affordable housing and anti-poverty programs. They also asked for “sufficient funds” to be added to the government’s disaster relief account “to ensure that funding is available in FY12 to assist communities that faced disaster this year.”

Given the urgency expressed by Senators in the wake of Irene, the two could find additional signatories. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) lamented the lack of FEMA funds to rebuild tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo. in an Aug. 28 statement. And New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew to lobby for increased federal funds to assist the Empire State in helping communities affected by Hurricane Irene.

“We need every necessary resource to help recover from this devastating storm. And that requires Washington to come together and do what’s right for these families, businesses and communities that are suffering and need the full support of our country,” Gillibrand wrote in a Sept. 1 letter.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to approve funding to avoid a government shutdown.

The debt ceiling bill approved in August set the spending levels for the next fiscal year and requires $7 billion in cuts from 2011 levels. But it also contains a little-noticed provision that enables lawmakers to raise those caps for emergency disaster spending. For fiscal 2012, Congress can appropriate an additional $11.3 billion dollars, according to the administration. The White House this week asked for $5.2 billion in disaster assistance, but that does not include funds for damage from Hurricane Irene.

Conrad and Hoeven noted Congressional belt-tightening in the draft of their letter.

“We recognize the tight fiscal constraints you will be working under this year, and would be happy to work with you to ensure that this assistance is provided in a manner consistent with the spending caps enacted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011,” they wrote to the top Appropriations officials.

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