Federal Disaster Guidelines are a Disaster

According to a recent Stateline article, federal disaster aid regulations are often unclear much to the exasperation of the governors’ of the states. Consider two contrasting examples: when wildfires raged in Arizona and Governor Jan Brewer asked President Obama to declare a federal disaster, he declined. However when a plant exploded in Texas and Governor Rick Perry asked President Obama to declare it a federal disaster, Obama did so.  FEMA does have a set of guidelines for categorizing disasters but most experts say that it is unclear and often ignored.

At first glance, it seems that partisan politics is to be blamed for these discrepancies. But the above example and the numbers do not support that hypothesis.  The article points out that, “Democratic presidents denied requests from Republican governors 53 times and Democratic governors 44 times. Republican presidents turned down requests from fellow Republicans 49 times and from Democrats 43 times.” Similarly while presidents approved of disaster requests 85 percent of the time between 1991 and 2011 the four states most likely to be denied were: Connecticut, Arizona, Texas, and Rhode Island.