TALLAHASEE, Fla. — The battle over a new spending plan in Washington, D.C., could hinder federal disaster relief in Florida. That's according to the state’s emergency management director. And it’ll get worse if the government shuts down.
Wednesday marked three weeks since Florida’s latest hurricane, Idalia, made landfall. The Category 3 storm devastated parts of the Big Bend, impacting thousands. And, according to state officials, Congress' fight over a new spending plan isn't making things any easier.
"That hampers recovery," Florida’s Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. "When we don’t have those funds coming back in from the federal government, that hampers recovery."
Guthrie on Wednesday called on D.C. lawmakers to figure out a solution ASAP. He wants FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund replenished, worried that the looming shutdown could freeze relief if the remaining dollars were drained.
Low funds already prompted FEMA to take action it hasn’t since 2001. Officials paused about $1.5 billion in long-term obligations to prioritize immediate ones. Some projects here in Florida were halted as a result.
"We have about $500 to $600 million in the queue, ready for — FEMA is ready to push the button when they get the money," said Guthrie. "But, we got to make sure Congress and the Senate get us that money."
Guthrie’s call comes a day after FEMA's director, Deanne Criswell, told a congressional committee how dire the situation was getting. She too urged members to avoid a shutdown that could make things worse.
"There are times when disasters outpace our appropriated funds," Criswell said. "We are in such a moment today.”
The Biden Administration wants an extra $16 billion in the new spending plan to bolster FEMA's relief fund. However, Republican infighting and disagreement with Democrats over the tying of Ukrainian aid to the dollars have stalled progress thus far.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) is among those wanting to untether FEMA funds. He's offered a new bill to make it happen.
"We need to make sure Floridians get the support from their federal government they deserve," Scott said.“We shouldn’t make it contingent on helping a foreign cause. Might be an important thing to do, but we ought to be doing disaster relief and helping Americans first.”
To date, Scott's idea hasn't gotten enough traction. President Joe Biden has also said he has no interest in separating FEMA funds from Ukraine.
The deadline for a deal is Oct. 1. That's under two weeks away. If lawmakers fail to find a compromise, the nation will shutter major portions of the government for the fourth time in the last decade.