WASHINGTON -- As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Carolinas, newly released documents show the Trump Administration took money away from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies to pay for immigration detention centers.
- Documents show FEMA money was used to fund ICE services
- FEMA down $10 million out of its $15 billion budget
- Officials say it won't affect disaster relief efforts
The agency that spearheads the federal response to natural disasters is down nearly $10 million out of its $15 billion budget.
Top officials at FEMA are insisting the transfer of nearly $10 million of its budget to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) services will not affect the agency's disaster relief efforts.
“We have plenty of resources to respond, we have plenty of resources to recover," said Jeff Byard, a FEMA official during a briefing in Washington on Wednesday morning.
The budget documents, first made public by Senator Jeff Merkley (D) Oregon on Tuesday show the transfer would help fund immigration detention centers, and $4 million of which taken directly from FEMA’s response and recovery or preparedness and protection categories.
“That has not impacted our situation whatsoever," Byard said.
“The budget documents show that there is a lot of tough questions that need to be asked about what the true priorities are of this administration," said Peter Tyler, a senior policy analyst for the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.
In the documents, it is stated FEMA "will curtail training, travel and public engagement in response to the cuts."
While a Department of Homeland Security spokesman claims disaster relief funds were not affected by the diversion, the changes concern Tyler.
“Transferring funds from FEMA means there are some activities that FEMA is doing that are considered lower priority. However, that includes things such as training," he said. "We want well qualified, well trained people sent to disaster zones."
The president has already declared states of emergency for regions in the path of the storm, clearing the way for immediate federal assistance, but some lawmakers worry about how the transfer of funds could impact the agency’s ability to respond to multiple disasters back to back like we saw in 2017.
"We need to look over the long term about being more prepared," said Rep. Darren Soto (D) Florida. "We are going to see more storms, we're going to see fiercer storms, and so it's absolutely critical that when Congress designates these funds for hurricane preparedness, that's what they are used for."
FEMA said the diverted funds are less than 1 percent of the agency’s total operational expenses and it has a separate account totaling $25 billion that it uses for disaster responses.