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When disaster strikes, what is the federal responsibility?

by AirTalk®

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Timothy Henggeler, Logistics Specialist with FEMA speaks with New York guard members at Republic Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 in Farmingdale, New York. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, disaster relief has been a frequent topic of conversation all over the country.

Even though a majority of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires occur in several key points across the country, when disaster strikes, the whole nation feels the impact. Part of this has to do with the way a natural disaster can affect the national economy – economists point to Hurricane Sandy as part of the cause of the most recent increase in the jobless report – but a lot has to do with federal funding for aid.

During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney took a lot of heat for pre-Sandy comments on FEMA: America “can’t afford” it. But he’s hardly alone in his view that funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be cut back on the federal level. Some economists have argued that FEMA should exist for rare, heavy-hitting natural disaster, while states with high-risk should be responsible for their own, more regular aid.

Is the federal government responsible for providing aid for every natural disaster? Is it fair to ask residents of low-risk states to fund a program that predominantly serves states with regular, predictable natural events? How big does a disaster have to be to warrant federal intervention and aid?


Barry Scanlon, former FEMA official and current president of Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm

Nicole Gelinas, scholar with the Manhattan Institute

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