/Budget cuts could affect disaster aftermath

Budget cuts could affect disaster aftermath

The incident ended with 10 deaths and many more injuries. The UMMC control center, known as MEDCOM, was vital in transporting nursing home patients. It also played traffic controllers for emergency personnel, vehicles on the ground, and helicopters. Six months later, the Associated Press reported that 480 homes had been destroyed and another 1,575 were damaged. According to AP, 950 applications were submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There were approximately $207 million in insured losses. Congress approved $43.5million for rebuilding after the storm. This included grants to local governments, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and to the Mississippi State Department of Health. These funds were used to offset the costs of the agency to get medical services up and running again. Some in the emergency response community are now wondering if Mississippi can handle another disaster like that of Louisville. Officials from the agency say that, at least for the immediate term, the answer is yes. Jonathan Wilson, chief administrator for UMMC, said that budget and funding will not play into the center’s response to natural disasters. “We’re going do the right things for the state, and do the right for people,” Wilson said. Wilson is joining Lee Smithson, executive director of MEMA to assure that budget issues will not compromise public safety. It’s obvious that there could be confusion after a disaster. Smithson and Dr. Mary Currier, from the health department, were the first to raise the alarm in budget negotiations in April. Smithson’s agency was cut by 15%, Currier received 13.6 percent. Both cuts raised questions about the effects of a new state law, which prohibits state agencies receiving or making payments. Many of these questions remain unanswered more than a month after the new fiscal year began on July 1. Smithson told Mississippi Public Broadcasting that she will ensure that search and rescue elements managed by the Department of Public Safety have all they need and that my team is ready to start coordinating search and rescue efforts and other life safety measures in an immediate response. Liz Sharlot, spokeswoman for health department, said that agency leaders tried to obtain more information from legislators, but that there are still many questions. The typical disaster scenario is that Mississippi agencies responding to a disaster keep track of their expenses and submit them to MEMA for submission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA then approves the reimbursement, and sends a check to MEMA. MEMA disperses the funds among the agencies that have submitted claims. The federal government has previously paid approximately 75 percent of the costs of federally-declared catastrophes. In the past, Uncle Sam paid 100 per cent of Mississippi’s Hurricane Katrina costs. The disbursement portion is where there are major questions. This is because of legislation known as the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act, which prohibits state agencies exchanging funds among themselves. It took effect July 1. This could also affect FEMA funds from Hurricane Louisville, which were claimed by agencies two years ago and have yet to be reimbursed. This cloud of uncertainty ripples outwards to the agencies and non-profits involved in disaster response. Suzanne Scales is the director of operations at Volunteer Mississippi. She said that volunteers can make up as much as three quarters of an emergency response team. Volunteer Mississippi coordinates individual and non-profit volunteers and also handles work orders and charitable donations. Her organization has difficulty figuring out how to support government agencies she works with because there isn’t enough fiscal clarity for the key state agencies that responds to disasters. “Everything’s on a very unstable ground. Scales stated that we don’t know. The Capitol budget writers said that they were working with agency heads in order to clarify the budget picture. They also suggested that emergency appropriations might be an option, if necessary.