Federal Disaster Aid Topped $60B Over Two Years Before Sandy

September 16, 2013

The U.S. government spent nearly $62 billion on disaster relief in the two-year period ending Sept. 30, 2012, to help Americans recover from severe storms, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, a new analysis of federal data has found.

The Agriculture Department accounted for more than half of all federal disaster spending for those two years, with $28.2 billion going to the crop insurance program, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

Under the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance system, the government pays 62 cents of each $1 in premiums and shares losses with insurance companies during catastrophic years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund paid out $8.8 billion in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, when there were 25 natural disasters that each caused more than $1 billion in damage, the analysis said.

Because the federal budget year ends on September 30, the report does not take into account the estimated $50 billion cost of relief and recovery from Superstorm Sandy, which hit the East Coast in October last year.

For the calendar years 2011 and 2012, including some costs from the superstorm that inundated parts of the New York and New Jersey coast, the total price tag was $188 billion. Private insurance, individuals and businesses paid for damages not addressed by federal disaster aid.

Because damage estimates are made by calendar year and federal disbursements are by fiscal year, it was not possible to exactly line up the two cost estimates.

Texas received $5.2 billion in federal disaster money for the two-year period—the most of any state—followed by Illinois, North Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Indiana and South Dakota.

Delaware received the least, at $12 million.

The report showed a rising tide of costly weather-related disasters in recent decades.

The number of billion-dollar extreme weather events has risen from fewer than two per year in the 1980s to an annual average of more than nine from 2010 to 2012, the report found. In the 1980s, the combined annual cost of the billion-dollar disasters was $20 billion (in 2012 dollars), compared with $85 billion from 2010 to 2012.

Dan Weiss, co-author of the report and director of climate strategy at the think tank, noted that the 10 states that received the most federal disaster aid in recent years were represented by legislators who disproportionately voted against federal assistance for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Many of those lawmakers are also skeptical that a changing climate has been fueled by human activities, Weiss said by email.

“The rise in extreme weather events that cause at least $1 billion in damages is due to more frequent or ferocious storms, floods, heat waves, drought and wildfires,” he said. “Scientists tell us that climate change is driving the increase in this extreme weather, just like steroids enable athletes to become stronger than nature intended.”

However, a report this month in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society showed considerable debate over how much a warming planet has influenced severe natural events. In an 84-page suite of studies that examined 12 severe weather events around the globe in 2012, the scientists found that only half were influenced by human activities, such as the burning of climate-warming fossil fuels.

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