Disaster Relief


ANNCR: Disaster Relief --Today on Congressional Moment

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ANNCR: When a disaster occurs, natural or otherwise, Congress plays an important role in providing relief funds and immediate assistance to individuals and communities. Starting with the Congressional Act of 1803, relief was provided through a growing number of separate, specialized agencies, which at one point numbered over 100.

The Disaster Relief Act of 1974 established the process for presidential disaster declarations. In 1979, working with President Jimmy Carter, Congress consolidated many of the agencies into the new Federal Emergency Management Agency, or "FEMA."

But since the September 11th terrorist attacks, FEMA has been pressed into additional service - securing the homeland. Congress has provided significant new resources to the agency to help communities deal with the threat of terrorism.  In November of 2002, FEMA was incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security, which was approved by Congress after months of debate.

Opposition to the new department and its broad powers was strong. And with FEMA's total budget now exceeding $5 billion annually, some wonder whether disaster assistance standards need to be tightened.

Even now, as the debate continues, FEMA works with state and local agencies to continue coordinating all facets of disaster relief, as well as programs involving homeland security and prevention.

STANDARD CLOSING: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all of our lives. To find out more about how Congress works or to get involved in your government, visit the Center On Congress Web site at congress.indiana.edu.