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Reuters/Ernest Scheyder
Wilmington, South Carolina, prepares for Florence.
DISASTER (UN)PREPAREDNESS

$10 million of FEMA’s budget was taken to fund a crackdown on immigrants

By Annalisa Merelli & Adam Pasick

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the US East Coast, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a $10 million hole in its budget—from funds that were diverted for Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants.

Documents released last night (Sept. 11) by Oregon’s senator Jeff Merkley show that the agency lost $10 million, the New York Times reports. According to Merkley, the funds were diverted from FEMA’s “response and recovery” budget, which works on natural disaster relief, to finance the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s detention and removal operations.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed that there had been a transfer, but denied that the funds had been taken from the response and recovery budget. “This is a sorry attempt to push a false agenda,” tweeted Tyler Q Houlton, a spokesperson for the DHS. Houlton also referred to unspecified “appropriation limitations” that would have prevented taking the money from relief funds, but provided no additional details.

“We have plenty of resources, money, staff, and commodities,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for the office of response and recovery at FEMA, when asked about the $10 million. FEMA’s disaster relief fund is over $20 billion, he noted. “We have no concerns at this time,” he said. He stressed that FEMA is just “part of the puzzle” in the government’s response to the storm.

FEMA is also dealing with a shortage in human resources. Despite a brutal hurricane season last year, including thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, FEMA today has no permanent deputy administrator (the agency’s number two position), as Quartz reported earlier. Jobs to oversee “mission support,” “human capital,” and security have also gone unfilled.

Nevertheless, the White House appears quite pleased with what FEMA has been able to accomplish so far. Trump referred to FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico as “an incredible, unsung success,” despite a death toll in the thousands and evidence that better government preparedness could have prevented some deaths. 

Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall later on Thursday with category four strength, making it one of the most powerful storms ever to hit South Carolina.