Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Governmental Roles in Disaster Relief

Now that it appears that the worst of Sandy's destruction has passed, the cleanup has begun. A good chunk of the work is being done, directed by, or funded by the federal government. So it's worth noting that Mitt Romney and most of the GOP have for some time now been promoting the dissolution or de-funding of emergency-relief agencies like FEMA. Johnathan Cohn details the role the feds play in the disaster and what removing this line of defense would mean. Money quote:
States do many things well and, frequently, the most successful federal programs are the ones that let states innovate or take charge in those instances when they are positioned to do so. Emergency management happens to be one of them: Fulgate’s mantra at FEMA is to let states take the lead, with the federal government giving them the tools to do their job. But even programs like FEMA require presidential-level commitment to a vibrant bureaucracy and, yes, serious federal spending. And that’s not something Romney, or his allies, endorse. On the contrary, one of Romney's core campaign commitments is a cap on federal spending that would require drastic cuts to domestic spending. If Romney sought to spare FEMA, as he has other popular programs, that’d simply mean more cuts to other programs—from food inspections to health clinics to air traffic control—on which public safety and well-being depend.
Romney really does believe that the private sector could take the place of the government. But I wonder what private company would have the resources to offer major disaster insurance, how much it would cost, and who could afford it. I also wonder what would happen to the many, many people who most likely would not be able to afford that insurance. IMO, a healthy (and not over-strong) federal government is necessary for these large-scale areas of public interest, like infrastructure, health care, and disaster relief. By deferring these costs onto all of us, we make them manageable while also recognizing economies of scale.

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