Economic Issues

Delaware and New Jersey recently lamented how much money they have spent on snow removal this winter.  With budget deficits hitting most states, those two states are not the only ones who will be looking for cash to pay for the snow removal.  One source may be the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), given its recent history of issuing emergency declarations for these type of routine events, says Matt Mayer, a visiting fellow with the Heritage Foundation and a homeland security expert. 

In its entire 57 year history, FEMA has issued 293 emergency declarations for “Winter Storms”: 

  • From 1953 to 1992, FEMA only issued 37 emergency declarations for Winter Storms; these emergency declarations accounted for only 13 percent of all Winter Storms emergency declarations in FEMA’s history.
  • The remaining 87 percent of Winter Storm FEMA emergency declarations were issued over the last 17 years. 

However, starting in 1993, FEMA began issuing emergency declarations for more and more events that historically had been handled entirely by the states, says Mayer: 

  • Specifically, during Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, FEMA issued 108 emergency declarations for Winter Storms.
  • George W. Bush issued 128 FEMA emergency declarations for Winter Storms in his eight years.
  • Barack Obama has issued 20 FEMA emergency declarations in his first year in office, which would put him on track for roughly 160 FEMA emergency declarations for Winter Storms should he serve two terms. 

Given the federal budget deficits, FEMA cannot afford to cover 75 percent of the costs of state snow removal either.  It is high time for this federalization of routine events to come to a halt and for states to plan and budget for what are known events every year, says Mayer. 

Source: Matt Mayer, “Will FEMA Bail Out State Budgets?” Heritage Foundation, February 8, 2010. 

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