Now that I can safely say that Mitt Romney will not be elected our next president, I feel it’s necessary to reflect on what his presidency would have meant for the all-important and salient issue of disaster relief.
At a Republican presidential primary debate last year, John King of CNN asked Romney how he viewed the role of the federal government in disaster relief. Romney promptly responded that he would cut funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the primary organization the federal government uses to deal with disasters.
This position reflected a continuation of the policy started under President Bush, in which FEMA was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security, a decision which drastically reduced the effectiveness of FEMA, as evidenced during Hurricane Katrina. The destruction wreaked by Katrina, combined with the disastrous response of FEMA, led to major changes within the organization.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Romney campaign sought to balance Romney’s statements of 2011 by expressing the clear need for federal aid in disaster relief. The campaign eventually released a statement in which Romney recognized the need for FEMA while still reiterating his previous statement of returning many of FEMA’s responsibilities to the states. This change of position reflects how out of touch some of Romney’s pledges were.
The Romney campaign believed that FEMA is a symbol of an oppressive big government that tramples over states rights. The reality is quite different. In the wake of a disaster the governor of the affected state must first declare a state of emergency and then formally request that FEMA join in the disaster response. FEMA then puts into action a plan that focuses on providing aid on a local scale, concentrating on first responders and bolstering the efforts of civil authorities.
All of these measures show close cooperation between the state and federal government, not a trampling of states rights as claimed by the Romney campaign. FEMA also provides local funding for the rebuilding process through the Small Business Administration (SBA), another government position that was elevated to the cabinet level under President Obama. The SBA provides loans to small business and entrepreneurs to strengthen the national economy. Strengthening small business is a keystone of the Romney campaign, but with the proposed dismantling of FEMA, the SBA would no longer be able to provide funding for recovery efforts.
Romney’s comments last year were clearly designed to gain support from the Republican base, the same base that gave him his party’s nomination. After Romney joined the general election campaign, he moved to a more moderate position, renouncing his earlier statement calling for the destruction of FEMA. Despite that change, Romney still clung to the idea of returning the powers of FEMA to the states.
The reality, however, is that FEMA exists to help states deal with disasters that would otherwise overwhelm them. FEMA is then an example of cooperation between federal and state government, it is an example of how sometimes we encounter problems that require a national response. Romney thought that a disaster like Hurricane Sandy didn’t require a national response, that perhaps the states would manage it better on their own. Now that Romney won’t be our president, we can all rest assured that the national government will be there for us in times of crisis.
James Cameron is a freshman International Studies major from Boston, Mass.
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