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Cochran: 'Underestimating syndrome' hurting disaster funding

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) says budgetary “underestimating syndrome” skews congressional and public understanding of the federal funding needed to address disaster recovery.

Cochran serves on the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee that conducted a hearing Wednesday afternoon titled “The Federal Role in Disaster Recovery and Response.” The hearing featured testimony from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Army Corps of Engineers.

“We need to streamline, modernize and make user-friendly the disaster assistance programs we have. This hearing will serve a purpose of helping us all realize that we have a responsibility to the constituents and the people of this country to make these federal disaster programs work as intended and to make them make sense, too,” Cochran said. “This goal is all the more important as we work to control our deficit by reducing and prioritizing overall federal expenditures.”

Cochran said an “intentional underestimating syndrome” within White House administrations of both parties makes it more difficult for Congress, as well as the public, to grasp the magnitude of the disaster response and recovery needs.

“When a Democratic or Republican administration knows the federal government has obligations but does not request adequate funding, it unnecessarily makes providing for disaster recovery harder, and places the nation at risk should an unpredicted catastrophic disaster strike,” Cochran said. “It is my hope that we can work cooperatively with the administration to make tough annual budget decisions.”

Cochran also questioned the pace of recovery cost estimates from the Army Corps of Engineers to make repairs to levees and other flood control structures damaged by massive flooding on the Mississippi River and its tributaries this summer. Those disaster recovery costs could also compound pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers budget for the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project.

“We haven’t seen any formal request for additional funding from the Administration to address the extent of the damage from flooding on the Mississippi River and its tributaries,” Cochran said. “We hope the administration and the Congress don’t wait around and fail to encourage the appropriation of funds that will certainly be needed.”

The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that it will need more than $2 billion to restore flood-damaged structures to full functionality. The Senate Appropriations Committee meanwhile in September approved $1.04 billion in emergency disaster response funds for the Corps.

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