FEMA: Funds To Elect Murray Again?

Does the Federal Emergency Management Agency really respond to natural disasters, or does FEMA merely serve as a conduit for political payoffs?

by F.R. Duplantier

“Most people believe that, when the President declares a ‘national disaster’ and orders the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into an area, it is to combat major disasters such as a hurricane that can affect large areas and millions of people. That,” declares Paul Clark of the Coalition for Local Sovereignty, “is not the case.”

In a recent commentary on America’s Voice, a cable television news network, Clark charges that politics has more to do with the declaration of a federal emergency than does the existence or extent of an alleged disaster. “Funneling political payoffs through FEMA is a pretty safe operation,” he explains, “as anyone who dares object is easily branded a coldhearted Scrooge.”

Clark recalls how President Clinton declared a national emergency in October in “the small town of Kelso, Washington. This ‘national emergency,'” he notes, “was not significant enough to make the national news. It involves a series of mudslides over the last year which . . . threaten to destroy all 137 homes in the development. The average value of these homes is over $100,000,” Clark reports, “so the total amount of money to pay for all the homes is expected to be about $10-12 million.”

Clark concedes that “damage to 137 homes in a small town of 12,000 is a burden on the town and a burden to many of the homeowners, but,” he asks, “how does it rise to the level of a national emergency?” Clark rejects the contention that “the federal government must get involved because such a disaster is beyond the ability of the state to handle,” pointing out that Washington is “one of the richest states in the union.”

Clark claims that “politics pure and simple” dictated the declaration of a national emergency in Kelso. “Democratic Senator Patty Murray [was] locked in a close race with Rep. Linda Smith,” he explains. “Sen. Murray was given advance notice [of the declaration] by the White House and she was the one who was allowed to make the announcement of money forthcoming from Washington, to show her constituents that she could still bring home the bacon.”

The question is, Does FEMA stand for Federal Emergency Management Agency, or Funds to Elect Murray Again? And what’s wrong with the politicians who represent your town or subdivision? Why aren’t your representatives “bringing home the bacon” the way Murray did? Could they not find one single “disaster” of sufficient minimal magnitude to make manna rain down from Washington? Nary a “calamity” or “crisis”? Not even a buckled sidewalk, disastrously disfigured by the unruly roots of a majestic oak tree and threatening to unleash an epidemic of stubbed toes? Surely the urgent need to renovate a strategic pedestrian thoroughfare or issue emergency steel-toed brogans to the populace would justify the release of federal funds! Why not defraud Uncle Sam and the U.S. taxpayer? Everyone else is doing it!

Week of: Jan. 3, 1999