Federal disaster relief is "bad economics, bad morality and bad constitutional law."
When I heard those words uttered by now-GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX), I was perplexed and taken aback by his marked apathy. In essence, Rep. Paul and certain libertarians believe that there should be no federal funds for disaster relief. Hence, if a tornado, earthquake, hurricane, flood, wildfire or other act of God ravages a city like Joplin or New Orleans, then the residents of those respective communities should be responsible for their own rebuilding efforts. Proponents who agree with this notion often adhere to the personal responsibility principle as the backdrop for their conviction that disaster victims should help themselves instead of reaching into the wallets and bank accounts of their fellow taxpayers.
Rep. Paul's sentiments were recently echoed -- though less extreme -- by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as he discussed his position relative to earthquake aid for areas in his own district in Virginia. According to Cantor, "There is an appropriate federal role in incidents like this [...] all of us know that the federal government is busy spending money it doesn't have."
I also found Cantor's statement to be very indifferent and somewhat hypocritical from a congressional leader who has repeatedly voted for tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare subsidies for Big Oil companies without any offsets. In simpler terms, Cantor has no problems with big corporations and the very wealthy getting breaks and perks, but disaster victims should wait for Congress to eliminate spending elsewhere in the federal budget before they get any relief.
To a degree, I do concur with Paul, Cantor and the like that insurance is still one of the best mechanisms to protect one's home and its contents in the event of damage or destruction. But, as evidenced in Virginia, there are exceptional disasters that occur that simply are not covered under standard insurance policies.
There are certainly ways to improve disaster relief at the federal level. From a congressional perspective, it would likely prove beneficial if lawmakers could approve disaster relief funding on an annual basis as a part of the budget, which would negate ad hoc requests to add such payments as supplements. Additionally, it would be prudent to establish limitations on sensitive and high-risk areas that are prone to disasters to discourage further development.
Persistent efforts are needed to improve accountability, management and oversight of FEMA that has made significant mistakes. And, continual improvement of the disaster insurance system could also help reduce the miscalculation of risks that ultimately force insurers to leave certain states or to truncate the number of policies that they issue.
Notwithstanding, should the federal government stop helping those individuals that have been affected by acts of God to help balance the budget? Resoundingly, no!
As aforementioned, there are at least several ways to reform disaster relief but exhibiting a lack of compassion clearly leads to nowhere. Selfishness and dogmatic stubbornness are the real examples of bad morality. And, arguments on whether federal disaster relief evolves from the Constitution, the General Welfare Clause or an Executive Order should not supersede the humane discussion of the suffering of others and the unselfish willingness to assist and to encourage those who are hurting and needy.
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