As part of their bill to void the military spending cuts included in the Budget Control Act — which was passed as a result of 2011’s GOP inspired debt ceiling standoff — House Republicans proposed eliminating a program that helps states and localities respond to disasters like hurricanes.
The House Republicans’ Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012, which was passed without a single Democratic vote, called for zeroing out funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), a program that provides funding to state and local governments to aid needy children, adults, and the disabled. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted, the SSBG also offers assistance for disaster relief:
The SSBG has served as a conduit for emergency appropriations to help residents and communities respond to the additional social service and health needs resulting from natural disasters, such as floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.
For example, in response to the 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes — including Hurricane Katrina —Congress provided an additional $550 million in emergency funding to states via SSBG for use by public, non-profit, and private entities to repair, renovate, or construct health care facilities, among other purposes. The funds were disbursed promptly — within two monthsa — and SSBG’s flexibility allowed states to streamline eligibility for services funded by the emergency appropriations. Eliminating SSBG could make it harder to provide this sort of flexible human services funding in the face of emergencies.
President Obama’s budget proposed maintaining the SSBG’s annual funding of $1.7 billion; it has had that funding level since 2001. As CBPP noted, “Although the SSBG has received bipartisan support from governors and members of Congress, it has lost 77 percent of its value since 1981, due to inflation, funding freezes, and budget cuts.” This chart shows the drop:
Republicans last year held disaster relief funding hostage several times, demanding offsetting budget cuts. They also attempted to slash disaster funding in a 2011 continuing resolution. The Budget Control Act itself, meanwhile, cuts $900 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.