“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Donald J. Trump
The country is currently facing unprecedented rainfall, flooding, and tornadoes in the mid-west and Southeastern states while fire season has erupted in the Western states.
Alarmingly, the ever-increasing power and horror of hurricane season beginc for the Caribbean, the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf states.
FEMA in a hearing today with House Committee on Homeland Security admitted that they are thousands of employees short to deal with natural disasters for this summer and fall.
Despite urgent warnings to the “President” from scientists that the climate crisis is making natural disasters more potent than in years past, Trump decided to edit out of FEMA’s reports and assessments any mention of the role of climate from their documents.
In a hearing June 12, acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor told the House Committee on Homeland Security that the agency is prepared and ready to tackle any potential disasters in coming months. But Gaynor’s exchange grew heated as Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) pressed the FEMA head about staffing levels.
Are you fully staffed?” Thompson asked repeatedly. Ultimately, Gaynor asserted that the agency’s full-time staffing quota has been met, but that the agency is significantly understaffed with regards to the part-time employees who are critical to addressing disasters and wide-scale crises.
“It has been a struggle for FEMA to make sure that we have enough disaster responders,” Gaynor said, acknowledging that “we’re probably short a few thousand employees.”
FEMA has long been a source of ire throughout many presidencies, often taking the blame for a broader lack of government preparation for crises like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But under the Trump administration, the agency has bled staff at every level. Gaynor himself is an acting administrator, after former FEMA Administrator Brock Long departed earlier this year following spending controversies.
Much of the criticism aimed at FEMA, however, involves hurricane recovery. Severe storms in 2017 and 2018 left numerous areas devastated, including many parts of the Southeast, Texas, and territories including Puerto Rico. In addressing Hurricane Maria — which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017 — the agency was particularly ill-prepared. In an internal 2018 report, FEMA acknowledged that its staff was around 5,000 people short when that hurricane hit.
Catastrophic hurricanes struck again the following year. Both Hurricanes Michael and Florence upended communities from Florida to North Carolina in 2018. Those areas have struggled to recover; impacted communities and aid workers told ThinkProgress that FEMA’s efforts have been insufficient in addressing the crises. In parts of Texas recovering from Hurricane Harvey, as in virtually all of Puerto Rico, that narrative is much the same.