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FEMA Aide: Disaster Relief Funds Can Stretch


First Posted: 09/26/11 02:45 PM ET Updated: 11/26/11 05:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Emergency Management Administration won't run out of disaster relief money until later in the week, despite dire warnings from congressional leaders in both parties about the fund going dry as soon as Monday.

FEMA director of public affairs Rachel Racusen told The Huffington Post that, based on estimates made over the past weekend, FEMA's disaster relief fund won't hit zero until closer to the end of this week.

A senior Senate Democratic aide confirmed that Hill staff is being told that FEMA funds could stretch until Thursday or Friday.

As of Monday morning, the fund stood at about $114 million.

Racusen emphasized that those estimates assume that no new disasters will strike between now and when the fund empties out. If the fund does run dry before Congress acts, people still recovering from the aftermath of this year's natural disasters -- including Hurricanes Irene and Lee and the spate of tornadoes that decimated regions of the Midwest -- will no longer receive federal help.

"Under law, FEMA would be forced to temporarily shut down disaster recovery and assistance operations, including financial assistance to individuals until Congress appropriated more funds," she said. "This would include all past and current FEMA recovery operations.”

Congress is currently mired in a fight over whether to pay for billions of dollars in emergency disaster aid tucked into a must-pass $1.043 trillion government spending bill. If lawmakers can't reach a deal by Friday on whether to pass the bill -- which includes $3.65 billion in disaster aid -- not only will FEMA be tapped out of disaster relief money, but the federal government would be forced to shut down until a continuing resolution could be passed.

The next step in the budget fight comes Monday night in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is bringing forward an amended version of the House-passed government spending bill to see if it can pass without the $1.5 billion in disaster aid offsets added to the bill by House Republicans.

Senate Republicans largely support paying for disaster aid with offset spending cuts to an Energy Department clean car fund that is supported by Democrats. But Reid is hoping at least some of the 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats earlier this month to pass a $6.9 billion disaster relief package, without offsets, will side with him again.

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