Congress has less than three weeks to reach a budget deal before the threat of a government shutdown. Still in the wake of the floods, the timeline of already-allocated FEMA funding could slow down if a deal is not reached.
Congress has until September 30 to reach a spending deal; still over two weeks away from the looming date, Senator Peter Welch says in a shutdown setting, FEMA funds cannot be dispersed.
But this doesn’t mean FEMA help is leaving the Green Mountain State just yet.
Although a pause could be put on FEMA assets, Sen. Welch and Congresswoman Becca Balint say the money still exists; the ways it would be distributed would see the shortfalls of a shutdown.
“A shutdown would cause enormous harm to Vermont and really to the country, there’s no excuse for it, we simply have to pass a budget,” says Sen. Welch.
Sen. Welch says any government agency could stand to be affected: law enforcement, TSA, border patrol, social security, and FEMA.
Sen. Welch and Rep. Balint say they’ve observed pressure in the House on the discussions of a deal.
“We have to get that FEMA relief and there’s broad bipartisan support in the Senate to pass that, but a shutdown would interfere with our FEMA recovery,” says Welch.
“If a shutdown happens, and it looks like they’re committed to having a shutdown,” Balint says. “I feel like the pressure is really going to be on and it will hopefully be a short shutdown, because I think Americans from across the political spectrum are going to be clamoring for us to do our jobs.”
The two Vermont Delegates say FEMA funds won’t go away if the government shuts down, but it would take longer for the money to be dispursed.
“If we shutdown, then the administration of FEMA, even with the existing funds we have, would be stalled,” says Welch. “We have Vermonters right now where are in a very tough situation, and they’re hanging on.”
“The money has already been allocated to us, so it’s not going to go away, it’s not going to be clawed back,” says Balint. “The pipeline of getting that money out is going to be slowed down, because the people who logistically do the work of making sure all the paperwork is done on the federal side, some of those people will not be at their desk.”
But Congresswoman Balint notes the essential workers who would show up to work amid a shutdown, without being paid.
Rebecca Kelly with FEMA says the agency will not leave the state and will continue to aid Vermonters.
“FEMA would continue to respond to provide life sustaining and lifesaving assistance in the event that there is a lapse in appropriations,” says Kelly. “We are just one piece of the puzzle in the recovery process, and we’ll continue to provide assistance by providing you with resources and assets with some of our nonprofits like the United Way and the Red Cross,” she notes.
Kelly says nearly 6,000 Vermonters have registered for individual assistance so far, and FEMA has approved nearly $50 million in recovery grants. The deadline to apply for individual assistance is October 12.
Both Sen. Welch and Rep. Balint say a shutdown is avoidable but rely on House talks in the matter. The delegates say they’re doing their work to ensure the government can function.
The entire Vermont Delegation, Senator Bernie Sanders included, are also calling on congress to increase funding to FEMA, and to support more aid for Vermont flood recovery. The lawmakers sent a letter to majority, minority, and Appropriations Committee leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives.
“What we’re doing is filling up the coffer so that those who have been affected by these catastrophes, including Vermonters, will have access to the funds they’re entitled to under the FEMA relief,” says Welch.
“We have to make sure that we are taking care of this agency so that it’s going to be there, not just for Vermont, but for the next crisis that’s going to happen in somebody else’s district, and all Americans need to know that they can count on FEMA,” says Balint.
As Welch and Balint say natural disasters are becoming more frequent, they stress that FEMA needs a higher budget. Welch notes the letter also calls for Small Business Administration loans to be turned into grants that don’t have to be repaid, to help support business owners.