States Aren’t Spending Enough on Mitigation Before Disasters Occur

Most can’t even track how much they are spending and where it’s going, according to Pew report.

by Jim McKay / September 21, 2018

States should spend more money on mitigation efforts — prior to disasters striking — instead of throwing money at a disaster after the fact. But the fact that states’ mitigation spending is generally not comprehensively tracked makes that even more of a challenge.

That is the main gist from a Pew report released Thursday. Even though research shows that taxpayers save an average of $6 for every $1 spent on mitigation, the bulk of disaster spending comes after the fact as evidenced by the more than $120 billion spent after 2017’s hurricanes and wildfires.

“I cannot overstate the importance of focusing on investing in mitigation before a disaster strikes, and building more resilient communities is the best way to reduce risks to people, property, and taxpayer dollars,” read a quote from FEMA Administrator Brock Long in the report.

Although tracking spending after the fact is available, tracking mitigation spending is difficult. One of the reasons is that the spending is done across various agencies, not just emergency management. And most of the federal grants available are used after the fact.

“For states, there is very little data on state funding for mitigation programs available, which ties into a finding we found, which is that states face challenges with spending analysis on disaster mitigation for many different reasons,” said Anne Stauffer, project director of Fiscal Federalism and Broadband Research for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“It’s important to know what you’re spending to make those judgments or analysis about how much you’re spending now, how much you should spend or could spend in order to reduce the costs of future disasters,” Stauffer said.

She said the federal government really just tracks FEMA grants but not other funding programs from agencies such as Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Association. FEMA’s Pre-disaster Mitigation Program is by far the largest FEMA grant program at $7 billion but is available only after a state experiences a disaster. Total funding for those federal programs from 2007 to 2016 was $8.3 billion.

 Those three federal programs are awarded as follows:

•    The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program: Aims to reduce loss of life and property damage from future natural disasters by providing funding to state and local governments for mitigation projects after a major disaster declaration. The amount of funding a state receives for a declaration is 7.5 to 15 percent of the total disaster aid that FEMA grants the state for that disaster. For states with enhanced mitigation plans, the maximum rises to 20 percent.

•    The Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program provides grants to state and local governments to reduce overall risk to individuals and property from future disasters. All states receive some funding annually through a formula, and states wanting additional money must submit proposals to a competitive review process.

•    The Mitigation Assistant Grant Program aims to reduce or eliminate claims under the National Flood Insurance Program by providing competitive grants to state and local governments to develop plans and undertake projects to address flood risks.

The report said that funding from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which accounts for most of the money available through FEMA, depends heavily on the nature of disasters and fluctuates greatly. FEMA increasingly encouraging spending more on mitigation upfront. There is a proposal to quadruple investment by federal, state local, tribal and the private sector by 2022.