The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

A Little Rain, A Lot of Waste in Florida

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


How can a tempest that failed to arrive cost taxpayers $17 million?  That is the estimated price of the impact of Hurricane Ernesto on South Florida.  If you thought, as I had, that Ernesto struck the United States farther north and hardly affected the Sunshine State, you would be correct.  $17 million is the amount some counties in southern Florida are claiming they are entitled to, in order to recoup their preparation costs.

Several counties that spent exorbitant sums anticipating a thrashing from Ernesto are combining forces to request state officials to get the federal government to pay for their troubles.  It is the opinion of this group that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should pay for their preparation costs, including employee overtime, the purchase of supplies, shelter openings, and other related expenses.  Estimated preparation expenditures varied per county, but all are staggering: $10 million for Miami-Dade County, $2.5 million for Broward County, $2.3 million for Palm Beach County, and $1 million for both Monroe and Collier counties.  However, without a federally declared disaster, there is no argument for reimbursement. 

In anticipation of the storm, Governor Jeb Bush (R-Flor.) declared a state of emergency on August 27th, four days prior to Ernesto’s landing.  At the time Ernesto was a tropical storm, and was expected to strengthen into a hurricane prior to making contact with southern Florida.  This, however, was not to be.  The storm veered north and came ashore in North Carolina on August 31st, where it proceeded to cause widespread damage to the state’s agriculture industry.  Estimates now sit at $76 million in farm damages to 19 of North Carolina’s counties.

Governor Bush is currently being called on to help offset the costs some South Florida counties are burdened with, and also to use his contact in the Oval Office to obtain relief.  It is the wish of these counties for President Bush to order a special declaration making them eligible for reimbursement from FEMA, regardless of the hurricane’s minuscule effect on the state.

While it is natural for counties to prepare themselves as best they can for possible emergencies, they alone are responsible should their actions turn out to be in vain; it is simply not the responsibility of the federal government to bail out reckless spending at the local level.  Aid provided for a disaster that never took place should not be interpreted as a gesture of good faith by our government, but as an example of wasteful spending.  Federal money should instead be directed towards portions of the country that were actually affected by the storm. 

Surely the mission of FEMA is to provide relief to areas of the country in need of assistance – to those regions which were affected by acts of nature, not counties that were lucky enough to escape with only minor damage, but who remain saddled with their preparation costs.  Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is hopeful FEMA money will be used where it is most needed, and not as a handout to regions of the country that hardly suffered as a result of Hurricane Ernesto.

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