How FEMA funding fight led to monster mosquito swarms in N.C.
How to fund FEMA has emerged as the biggest point of contention as Congress seeks to pass a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown this week. In the meantime, those requesting federal emergency relief are wondering if it will ever come.
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And coastal towns in North Carolina, combating record swarms of mosquitos released after the drenching of hurricane Irene last month, have curtailed spraying efforts because they simply don't trust that they'll get their money back.Skip to next paragraph
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The North Carolina mosquito spraying fund that is normally replenished with FEMA funds is down to $160,000, which isn't enough to cover the amount needed in Dare County, N.C., alone, officials say.
Along the North Carolina coast, mosquito traps that usually catch 50 mosquitoes a night have caught 14,000 on some nights – an unprecedented amount, according to state mosquito experts. In some places, the swarms have made working outdoors to salvage property and rebuild homes difficult and, potentially, unsafe because of disease concerns.
"It's difficult for me to understand how FEMA recovery money becomes ideological," says Bobby Outten, the county manager in Dare County, which has stopped aerial spraying for mosquitoes because FEMA has been unable to guarantee the county will be reimbursed. "[Congress] needs to get aid out here as quickly as they can because people are suffering while they fight."
He adds: "In the back of your mind, you know that they're going to come through, but in the forefront, when the debate is going on, you really aren't sure what to tell people."
Joplin Mayor Mike Woolston, whose city was heavily damaged by a massive tornado in May, says that even if Congress resolves the funding crisis this week, questions will linger about FEMA's ability to honor its purpose: to help people rebuild from disaster. "The devil's in the details," Mr. Woolston tells the Associated Press. "How long will it take, how much disaster funding will there be?"
Rising costs due to the sheer number of presidential disaster declarations – Obama has declared a record 84 events worthy of FEMA help this year, a record – is something Congress is now forced to confront, especially with the nation's debt topping $14 trillion. For the sixth time in the last decade, the federal government this year stopped paying for long-term recovery projects so it could pay for more immediate needs.
But with eight out of 10 Americans already disapproving of how Congress handled this summer's debt crisis, the FEMA debate seems an unwelcome replay to some. "Yeah, we've had a bad year for disasters, and that means expenses are greater than normal," says Mr. Outten, the Dare County manager. "But FEMA is there for one purpose, and that's to deal with those issues. And if it's not going to deal with them, what's the point of having FEMA?"
IN PICTURES: US natural disasters of 2011