Iowa congressional leaders ask for federal disaster money change - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa congressional leaders ask for federal disaster money change

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KWWL) -- Iowa's congressional leaders are urging the federal government to change the way it divides grant money to states for disaster recovery.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced plans to spend $600 million in disaster relief, but Iowa is only slated to get $11 million.  That's less than 2% of the available money.

"Iowans have suffered through multiple, historic natural disasters this year and they are continuing to pick up the pieces," said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) 

Harkin, along with the entire Iowa delegation, sent Jim Nussle, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Michael Leavitt, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a letter on Wednesday calling the for the modification of the formula used to disburse funds through the HHS' Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) Program.

Senator Harkin's office sent out a news release Wednesday saying "the current formula neglected Congressional intent by using the size of each state's overall population as a major factor when determining how much money they receive.  This caused an absurd distribution of funds where some states less affected by natural disasters than Iowa received over 25 times the funding that Iowa received per family hurt by the disasters."

Harkin says the legislation clearly states that these funds should be based on the needs of each state resulting from hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. 

"Our state was clearly one of the worst hit states in the nation and we are entitled to our fair share of disaster funds. It is simply unconscionable for the Bush Administration to allocate disaster relief funds in any way that ignores this crucial fact. The formula must be changed," said Harkin.

SSBG funds are used to provide individuals and families with social, health and mental health services, and assist states in the repair, renovation and construction of health care facilities, child care centers and other social service facilities.

Online Producer: JJ Murray

A copy of the letter is below.

January 7, 2009

The Honorable Jim Nussle
Office of Management and Budget
EOB 1650 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20503

The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Director Nussle and Secretary Leavitt:

We find the formula used to allocate Disaster Social Service Block Grant (SSBG) funds grossly unfair to the state of Iowa and without reasonable logic. Division B of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, explicitly requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to allocate these funds "based on demonstrated need in accordance with objective criteria." However, with approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has neglected Congressional intent by using the size of each state's overall population as a major factor in making this allocation. While we understand that is a factor for the regular SSBG program, these funds were appropriated for disaster relief, and with the specific direction to be allocated based on need, not the population of each state.

There is simply no relationship between the total population of the state and the needs of disaster victims. By using whole state population for half of the allocation formula, OMB and HHS have grossly distorted the allocation of these disaster related funds. What has resulted is that some states with negligible damage received relatively large allocations compared to that of Iowa. For instance, five states - each of which had less than 1,000 people claim any FEMA individual benefits - are to receive a total of over $24 million, about $7,750 per applicant receiving FEMA assistance. But, in Iowa, with 39,821 applicants, the per capita assistance is only about $280 per applicant. 

As you know, Iowa suffered historic levels of damage in 2008. A sense of the extent of that damage can be gathered from the level of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) individual assistance distributed in 2008. In the previously mentioned five states, through December 15, FEMA had distributed about $11 million in individual assistance, an indication that the impact per person was relatively small compared to what happened in a state like Iowa. In Iowa, FEMA individual assistance was $135 million. Quite clearly, the formula used gave no weight whatsoever for the intensity or scope of the damage caused by the natural disaster. This is an incredible shortcoming that needs to be corrected.

We believe that the formula used by the Administration is grossly unfair and needs to be modified. We further request that you move forward to rectify this injustice as quickly as possible, and we request that you meet with the delegation as soon as possible to discuss this situation.


Tom Harkin                                                                
United States Senator

Charles Grassley
United States Senator

Leonard Boswell
United States Representative

Bruce Braley
United States Representative

Steve King
United States Representative

Dave Loebsack
United States Representative

Tom Latham
United States Representative


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