First, many of you know I am from Maryland, and while the state was slammed pretty hard by Sandy, we came through okay. Power is on and my family is safe, warm and dry (even the one away at college!) I was perusing through Facebook and Twitter this morning to check on family and friends who live in the path of the storm. As the morning has gone on I have seen more and more comments and memes about the evil Mitt Romney and how he thinks FEMA should be done away with. Never mind that the facts say otherwise; the timing, while people are still dealing with Sandy and her aftermath, is divisiveness gone crazy.
The comment that is being twisted as from a Republican primary debate from 2011. Romney was asked a question by CNN’s John King and answered:
KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?
ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…
KING: Including disaster relief, though?
ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.
I’d say that was pretty clear. The agency is over extended and the solution is to use state and local resources first, including private organizations. Local first-responders are in the best position to aid impacted individuals and communities. FEMA, on the other hand, has responded to almost any natural disaster around the country, no matter how big or small. In response, many states have cut back their emergency-response budgets, knowing all they have to do is ask for Federal assistance. What does this mean? FEMA stretched far too thin and ill- prepared to respond to grand-scale catastrophes, such as Sandy.
Then there are the stories of private organizations who left to help in disaster situations and were forced to leave without being able to help because FEMA turned them away. Firefighters turned away from helping with wildfires ( Feds Scuttle Volunteer Firefighters ); or the Red Cross warning that volunteers will be turned away if they don’t have proper credentials ( Volunteers on Standby in Issac’s Wake ). What training or credentials are needed to hand out food and water?
Oh, and let’s not forget waste and fraud. Hurricane Katrina. $20 billion in no bid contracts for, among other things, temporary housing that was unusable, assistance given to inmates and “phantom” people. FEMA Wasted Millions in Katrina Recovery and “Breathtaking” Waste and Fraud in Hurricane Aid.
Google FEMA and waste/fraud and pages and pages of reports come up from Katrina to Joplin to wildfires. No matter who was in the White House, FEMA is terrible about using, protecting and recouping its funds. The fact that our country is in an economic disaster means that the resources we do have must be used responsibly.
Regardless of any of the above, posting messages that are so divisive when the disaster is still in play is wrong, no matter who does it. As one who is in the midst of it all, I am saying STOP IT! If you want to raise your opinion that Romney is evil incarnate, then go vote in a week. As someone affected by this natural disaster, I’m saying get your facts straight and stop posting wrong information at our expense.
Image: courtesy of the FEMA Photo Library; author Lauren Hobart