Biden Announces Record Amount of Climate Resilience Funding
The Biden administration on Thursday announced a record cash injection to help communities guard against the effects of climate change, as disasters continue to hit the United States.
The new funds – $ 3.5 billion in grants to states to protect against flooding, wildfires, and other threats – mark a shift in U.S. disaster policy as climate change Worsens: Rather than smaller, more targeted investments, the government is investing huge sums of money in disaster preparedness as fast as possible.
“The risks we see from climate change are the crisis of our generation,” said Deanne Criswell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the money, in an interview.
The goal of the new money is to get local and state officials to broaden their approach to place less emphasis on small-scale projects that fortify individual homes or buildings, and more attention on ways to protect entire communities, she said.
“We had a very incremental approach to how we did climate risk mitigation,” Ms. Criswell said. “We really want to start to change direction.”
The announcement is the latest example of federal money being spent on resilience and adaptation to climate change at levels that would previously have been difficult to imagine.
In May, President Biden said he would double funding, to $ 1 billion, for another FEMA program – called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC – which also gives money to state and local governments for projects such as dikes, drainage or helping people move away from vulnerable areas.
And a bipartisan infrastructure bill pending in Congress would provide tens of billions of dollars in funding for climate resilience, the largest in American history. This package includes an additional $ 1 billion for the BRIC and $ 3.5 billion for a separate FEMA flood protection program.
The explosion of new money reflects the growing toll that climate change is taking on communities across the country.
Since a series of hurricanes and wildfires in 2017, the United States has suffered devastating disasters every year since: Hurricane Michael destroyed cities in Florida in 2018, flooding in the Midwest in 2019, and a record 12 major storms that made landfall in 2020. Last year 22 disasters that hit the country each caused at least $ 1 billion in damage, another record.
The new desire to spend heavily also reflects the growing weight of the federal budget. Between 2005 and 2019 alone, the federal government spent nearly half a trillion dollars on disaster relief, according to the Government Accountability Office, which views climate change as a threat to the government’s financial health.
Spending more money to protect homes and communities before disasters, rather than after they happen, could reduce those costs, studies suggest. A dollar spent preparing for a disaster saves an average of $ 6 later, according to a federal study.
The new spending is possible because of an oddity in federal rules, which allows FEMA to direct some disaster money – typically around 15% – to state grants for projects that reduce impact. future disasters. These so-called risk mitigation grants do not require congressional approval.
In a typical year, this formula typically generates around $ 1 billion in grants, according to Roy Wright, a senior FEMA official under the Obama and Trump administrations.
But the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed those numbers. To help states cope with the effects of the virus, the federal government has declared disasters – a stage typically reserved for physical disasters like hurricanes or wildfires – in each state, then used those statements to provide dozens of billion dollars in aid.
As a side effect of the government channeling this Covid aid through FEMA, the agency was able to count the rush of new funds to its risk mitigation grant formula.
The new grant amount will be divided by state, based on the amount of Covid aid each received. Texas will get the most money, $ 666 million, followed by California ($ 484 million), New York ($ 378 million), Florida ($ 185 million) and New Jersey (149 millions of dollars).
FEMA has been increasingly criticized for failing to ensure that racial minorities and other underserved communities receive a fair share of disaster funds. A growing body of research shows that black disaster victims often receive less money than white victims, even when they suffer the same amount of damage.
The agency must push states to spend that money in ways that help underserved communities, as well as seek innovative ways to increase resilience, said Wright, who is now president of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, an industry funded organization. group that examines how to reduce damage caused by disasters.
“This is the largest investment in climate resilience that we have ever seen from the federal government,” said Mr. Wright. “It has to change the way the nation approaches it.”
FEMA administrator Ms Criswell said the agency had no legal authority to tell states how to prioritize their risk mitigation grants among different communities. But she said her staff would “work very closely” with state officials to encourage them to consider fairness.
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