White House seeks $12B to refill the nearly broke disaster fund

By Thomas Frank | 08/10/2023 04:17 PM EDT

The money would enable FEMA to continue paying for cleanup and rebuilding costs after major disasters. The administration also requested money for wildland firefighters.

Vermont flood.

Water floods around homes as the river overflows along Route 11 on July 10 in Windham, Vt. Scott Eisen/Getty Images

President Joe Biden is asking Congress to approve $12 billion in emergency spending to replenish the nearly broke federal fund that helps communities and individuals recover after major disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.

It is unclear if Congress will approve Biden’s request, or if congressional approval will occur before the federal fund runs out of money.

Congress is on recess until early September, and the administration has projected the Disaster Relief Fund will run out of money in mid- to late August.


The multibillion-dollar funds pay most costs for communities to clean up and rebuild after a major disaster. It also gives individuals emergency aid, typically worth a few thousand dollars, for expenses such as temporary housing and minor home repairs.

A report released Wednesday shows that the disaster fund will face a $4.3 billion deficit in September.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell warned Congress publicly in April that the fund was running out of money and said the agency would ask Congress for $12 billion in emergency money to last through the end of the 2023 fiscal year, on Sept. 30. FEMA runs the disaster fund.

It’s unclear why the administration waited until the fund is nearly depleted to seek emergency funding. A senior administration official did not address the issue in a background briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon.

The official said that $12 billion would cover both spending to current disasters such as the wildfires in Hawaii and “our best projection of what we expect through the end of the fiscal year.”

Another official told E&E News that “FEMA has sufficient resources to meet its very near-term immediate needs,” but did not answer questions about the timing of the request for additional disaster funding.

Criswell has said that FEMA would follow its typical procedures if the disaster fund is nearly out of money, which involves suspending funds for long-term recovery projects and saving money for emergency costs such as life-saving measures.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate envision funding disaster relief and helping Ukraine in its war with Russia in a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond September.

The White House request also includes $60 million for wildland firefighter pay and roughly $4 billion for issues related to the U.S.-Mexico border.

But conservatives, particularly in the House, have been throwing roadblocks against a bipartisan spending deal, and their demands on border security are much steeper than Biden has been willing to accept. Some lawmakers believe a shutdown is possible.

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) said on X, formerly known as Twitter, about the funding request: “We still don’t have an accurate accounting of the $113 billion we have already sent to Ukraine. With the disaster that is taking place on our southern border, why are we even considering this?”