September 13, 2018
Just as political pundits are predicting that the president’s response to Hurricane Florence—forecast to be the strongest storm “in decades”—will either make or break the GOP’s chances in the midterm elections, disturbing news has been released by The New York Times.
In a September 12 report, the Times reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) transferred nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a budget document released by a Democratic senator on September 11—diverting funds from the relief agency at the start of the hurricane season that began in June. The story hits comes even as Florence barrels toward the East Coast.
The document, which was released by the office of Senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, shows that the money would come from FEMA’s operations and support budget and be transferred into accounts at ICE to pay for detention and removal operations. The document also shows that the Department of Homeland Security transferred money from accounts at Customs and Border Protection that pays for border fencing and technology.
Merkley, appearing Tuesday night on MSNBC’S The Rachel Maddow Show, said the Trump administration was taking money from FEMA’S “response and recovery” and “working hard to find funds for additional detention camps.” The senator has been a vocal critic of the administration’s immigration policies.
The document casts doubt on DHS’s denials that such a transfer occurred. “Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts,” Tyler Q. Houlton, an agency spokesperson, said on Twitter. “This is a sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”
Holton added that money transferred from FEMA could not have been used to pay for hurricane relief efforts because of “appropriation limitations.”
“DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs,” he said.
The release of the budget documents showing the money transfers between FEMA and ICE came after President Trump in an interview called last year’s hurricane response efforts by FEMA in Puerto Rico an “unsung success”
“The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous,” Trump told the media.
In an early Wednesday morning Twitter post, the POTUS doubled down on the agency’s performance and got a jab in at San Juan officials: “We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!”
New data show that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and many people continue to live without power on the island. An after-action report by FEMA released in July found that they agency vastly underestimated how much food and fresh water it would need, the Times said—as well as how hard it would be to get additional supplies to the island.
Research contact: @nytimes