Hurricane Harvey: A Call to Action
As you are well aware by now, a catastrophic hurricane hit Houston last Friday. The city is still suffering from major flooding, and it will take years for the city to recover from this tragic event.
But in the darkest hour, we have seen the American public reaffirm some of our greatest values. The outreach has been amazing. Millions of dollars in contributions have come in to help those affected, and hundreds of citizens have gone running towards the chaos to help in any way possible. The initial response to Hurricane Harvey has been great, but as we focus on moving forward, we need to make sure that we don’t ignore the lessons that it’s teaching.
If there is one lesson we should take away from Harvey, it is that good policy and government matter. The cleanup and rebuilding of Houston will be a massive undertaking, and while donations are great—and if you can, you should still donate (Here is a New York Times article on best ways to donate)—there is no organization better equipped than the government to manage the recovery process in the years to come. That’s why it’s so important that we make sure there are strong policies in place. Unfortunately, our current administration does not seem to acknowledge the fact that they are weakening the government’s ability to respond to disasters.
In the years following Hurricane Katrina, a storm that claimed the lives of around 1,800 people, our government stepped up. It increased funding to disaster relief programs and created regulations to limit the impact of the next natural disaster. The current administration, though, is proposing deep cuts to the very agencies and policies that were put in place to help Americans in our most vulnerable time of need.
Right before Harvey hit, Trump rolled back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which required that building projects receiving federal money account for the risk of flooding from rising sea level. This seems like a common-sense regulation since the effects of climate change increase the intensity of storms. We know that with warmer water and air, storms grow stronger and carry more water. And paired with rising sea levels, there will be stronger storm surges and increased inland flooding. So while Harvey was not a result of climate change, its damage was greatly increased by the effects of climate change.
Storms like Harvey are not going to stop happening so it would be wise for Congress to override the President on this one and make the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard the law of the land. It would also be wise not to cut our disaster response agencies’ budgets.
According to The Washington Post, the current proposed budget asks for a $667 million cut in funding to FEMA and additional local grant funding. And if that’s not bad enough, there are reports are out saying that Congress is considering cutting $876 million from disaster relief programs to help pay for Trump’s border wall.
The Trump budget also has a provision that would zero out the Community Development Block Grant program, which runs through HUD and helps rebuild communities after disasters. And the budget also includes a 62 million dollar cut to the weather service, which uses that money to update its technology to help predict evolving storms. This is an extremely useful tool in notifying people in enough time for them to get out of harm’s way or brace for a storm. These proposed budget cuts would severely hurt our government’s ability to respond to all future disasters and to rebuild Houston. The Trump administration’s attempt to limit our disaster preparedness and relief programs are many.
The full impact of Harvey is yet to be known, but Harvey should be a call to action for all of us. On the House of Representatives website, you can look up your representative’s information and how to contact them. Call, write or visit your representatives and demand that they do not cut our response agencies budgets and that they work on creating responsible regulations to help minimize the effects of natural disasters on our comminutes.
It’s up to us to build the government we need and deserve. So go make a lasting impact on the way our country prepares and handles natural disasters.