The President’s budget proposes $20 billion for federal disaster relief. According to A New Era of Responsibilty, “In the past, budgets assumed that there would not be any natural disaster in our Nation that would necessitate Federal help – no major earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or man-made disasters. This omission is irresponsible…”
The omission also reflects how public expectations for a federal role in disaster response are evolving. The number of Presidential Disaster Declarations is increasing over time. (The total number of Disaster Declarations per year is available from FEMA.)
Between 2002 and 2007 the average number of Disaster Declarations per year was 57.4. For the prior five-year period the average was 50.6. For the period 1993-1998 there was an average of 42 Disaster Declarations per year. It is difficult to track federal expenditures for disaster response, but a recent Congressional Research Service study found that emergency supplemental funding for disasters had increased from roughly $6 billion in 1998 to over $467 billion in 2008.
Several factors have influenced the increased federal role, including the escalating impact and cost of disasters, intensive national media coverage, and the political vulnerability of appearing to be less than fully responsive to local disasters. Some express concern that federal responsiveness is discouraging more aggressive local and state action that could reduce vulnerability to disasters. (See Feds and Fire from the Los Angeles Times)