FEMA

FEMA Dramatically Increases Reconstruction Project Budget for No Apparent Reason

Taxpayers nationwide will be forced to fork over money for a Sandy reconstruction project already rife with pork and waste.

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||| Rockaway boardwalk/flickr

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved a vast increase in funding to reconstruct the Rockaway Beach boardwalk last week, nearly doubling the budget from $270 million to $480 million. According to one report, "It was not clear what caused the price tag to jump," a phrase that could be attached to practically all government construction projects.

The boardwalk, destroyed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, is being rebuilt to costlier standards that call for things like a higher elevation and a sand barrier. The influx of cash has, unsurprisingly, received high praise from politicians such as Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who heavily lobbied for the mountain of taxpayer money to come to his state. 

The initial Sandy emergency spending package passed in 2012 already came loaded with hundreds of millions of dollars in pork for things entirely unrelated to Sandy relief, in states as far away as Nevada and Alaska. Even in the affected states of New York and New Jersey, there were hundreds of millions in corporate welfare for non-relief initiatives. Now, authorities are revising up their estimates of how much it will cost to get coastal areas up and running again, calling for even more spending on Sandy relief.

A November Cato Institute policy analysis by Chris Edwards said that "federal disaster aid in recent years is almost treated as if a state has won the lottery. After Hurricane Sandy, politicians in the affected states announced grand ideas about how they wanted to spend the tens of billions of dollars of federal relief money." That study also made clear that states, rather than the federal government, were best-equipped to efficiently handle disaster relief efforts: 

Excessive federal intervention threatens to undermine and crowd out more efficient state, local, and private disaster response efforts. Also, federal interventions usually come with top-down rules that stifle innovation and reduce the efficiency of state and local government services.  

In addition to wasting tax dollars on non-disaster spending and dramatic budget increases for no apparent reason, FEMA's existence incentivizes construction and development in areas of the country prone to storm damage. In a free market, people can choose to live in disaster-prone locations, but they have to either self-insure against the threat of damage or pay higher insurance premiums to hedge those risks. Under our current system, on the other hand, people go in knowing their infrastructure will be rebuilt on the federal taxpayer's dime in the event of a natural disaster—so why not build in a hazardous location?

This moral hazard issue, in which individuals, governments, and corporations, knowing they will not be expected to bear the full cost of future losses, take risks they would not otherwise, was addressed by Gettysburg College professor Rutherford Platt in his book Disasters and Democracy. There, he states that it is actually "good politics for state and local governments to neglect their own disaster response capabilities in order to make it easier to qualify for a presidential [emergency] declaration."

Politicians rarely stop to wonder whether they should really be building and rebuilding in disaster-prone locations that require expensive safety precautions like those being added to the new Rockaway Beach boardwalk. They don't have to reconsider the wisdom of such projects, because in the event another hurricane hits, they know the region will simply receive another bailout from the rest of the country. After all, that's what FEMA exists to do.

Despite the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Rockaway area, the government has actually managed to harm local residents in the aftermath of Sandy. Rockaway homeowners have been hampered by changing construction requirements imposed by the city's Buildings Department and FEMA. These new rules are slowing or preventing rebuilding for many residents, which in some cases has left them homeless more than two years after the fact.

"The most depressing thing since the storm is dealing with government," said one resident, who had to resubmit construction plans several times to comply with regulations and also had to re-file for a Small Business Administration loan that kept expiring due to the regulation-caused delays.

News about the increase in funding for Rockaway's boardwalk comes the same week FEMA agreed to increase funding to nearly 70 times the initial estimate for Moonachie, New Jersey's Borough Hall, bumping the taxpayer bill from $68,000 to over $4.5 million. Again, local politicians praised the vast increase in funding with no comment on the costs and future risk they're passing on to taxpayers nationwide.

UPDATE: According to a report from local news outlet DNAinfo, the 75 percent increase in funding for Rockaway Beach is supposed to go toward "park benches, light poles and ramps" in addition to the boardwalk itself. You can decide whether that sounds like $480 million well-spent.

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  1. “The most depressing thing since the storm is dealing with government,” said one resident.

    All it took was the literal force of nature to make your average NY numbskull aware of this.

    1. they aren’t aware of this still. they think it’s an anomaly. Surely in the south all of this went easily- it’s because they’re super special that it’s difficult.

      1. In the South they were handing out debit cards, no questions asked. It was like Christmas.

  2. Don’t worry the current taxpayers won’t pay too much for this, but their great-grandchildren… and their children… and their children… will.

  3. In a free market, people can choose to live in disaster-prone locations, but they have to either self-insure against the threat of damage or pay higher insurance premiums to hedge those risks. Under our current system, on the other hand, people go in knowing their infrastructure will be rebuilt on the federal taxpayer’s dime in the event of a natural disaster?so why not build in a hazardous location?

    Even some bigwigs in the Sierra Club agree. But all together now: Nothing left to cut! Mindless austerity!

  4. Taxpayers nationwide will be forced to fork over money for a Sandy reconstruction project already rife with pork and waste.

    No apparent reason?

  5. $210 million worth of benches and light poles?

    How long is this boardwalk, anyway?

    1. Union labor. $110M to pensions, $60M to big wigs, $50M in labor and a $20M shortfall before the first ramp is graded.

  6. If SOCIETY doesn’t do these things, nobody will!

  7. I hear that we can hitch a ride to there. Is this true?

    1. And do the Blitzkrieg Bop?

  8. Isn’t it bovious? Because FYTW

    1. *obvious*

      Lisdexlia’s a hctib

      1. I thought that it was a portmanteau word of “bovine” and “obvious,” as in “something that even a cow could figure out.”

    2. Bovious works too.

      “It was obvious to everyone with only a high school GED, but not Bo. He still didn’t get it.”

  9. in the event another hurricane hits, they know the region will simply receive another bailout from the rest of the country. After all, that’s what FEMA exists to do.

    I thought FEMA existed to run the re-education camps that all of us wreckers and sabateurs will be rounded up and sent to.

    *adjusts tin foil hat*

    1. Note that the “E” stands for Emergency, not Storm.

  10. “the 75 percent increase in funding for Rockaway Beach is supposed to go toward municipal union workers who pretend to be installing “park benches, light poles and ramps” over the course of another stalled 6-12 months while they angle for future budget teat-sucking“”

    FTFY

    1. So I’ll trot out this old story.

      Old guy sitting on his porch, watching a county truck coming down the road. It stops, the driver gets out, digs a hole, gets back in. Nothing happens for 5 minutes. Then the passenger gets out, fills in the hole, gets back in. The truck drives 20 yards and the cycle repeats.

      Finally they get close enough and the old guy yells out to ask what they’re doing. “We’re from the highway beautification project, planting trees.” “I don’t see no trees.” “Oh, that guy’s out sick today.”

      1. In NYC, the “paying people to do nothing” thing is mostly out in the open and completely shameless. Every 5-7 years there’s a short Metro Section story that highlights what everyone already knows…then its forgotten again. The MTA itself feeds these pieces to local news = its a form of ‘self-pruning’ to pretend that they’re ‘working on that problem’. The purpose is mostly to distract from the bigger-swindles that go on in the upper-eschelons

        There’s a small minority of actually-“born in the city and seen it their whole lives” people who moan constantly about it (raises hand). ‘Straphangers’ aren’t bad either for their historic fighting against the massive graft in the MTA. But the Parks Dept, Port Authority… many others muni agencies…

        1. …yeah, they’re fucking full of it too. Why would anyone bribe someone $30 grand just to work on some playgrounds…. If there *weren’t far more than that to be gained ripping off the city by getting the work permit*?

          If you work for the city – you’re a crook, basically. Its how things work. Hilariously, the city congratulates itself every now and then by busting the people who pay the crooks the bribes, rather than investigate the systemic corruption that creates the bribers in the first place.

        2. Your bigger-swindle link leads to Maryland – but I suppose it’s the same story everywhere.

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  12. We all know where the extra FEMA money is going:

    Camps.

    And trains.

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