January 10, 2013

Issac Bailey | Politics a dangerous precedent for Myrtle Beach-area disaster relief

The politicizing of disaster relief could hurt Myrtle Beach one day

The politicizing of disaster relief could hurt Myrtle Beach one day

The fight over federal funding to help in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy should concern residents of the Grand Strand, even though most of the focus has been on three states in the northeast.

The fate of those Yankees suffering from the effects of a natural disaster is inexorably tied to the fate of Southerners, particularly those of us on the coast.

Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which hit the Grand Strand hard, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992, a storm that pummeled Florida, were suppossed to change things forever. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was given more power, resources and respect. Building codes were strengthened. And it became standard practice for the entire nation to help the affected areas, through private donations and other direct help – and with federal funding, which made low-cost loans and temporary housing available.

But that sentiment seemed to shift a few years ago. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a once-in-a-lifetime sort of storm that flooded the streets of New Orleans, many Americans criticized those in need rather than want to help.

They called them names, said they should have protected themselves or saved themselves or made better decisions, that state level officials were incompetent – even though the storm unleashed unprecedented damage, the kind you can’t fully grasp until it occurs.

The nation no longer seemed in lockstep, so that when a natural disaster strikes we fall in line to help the needy, and we leave the political debates and social commentary for another day.

Now, because of long-term fiscal concerns, every natural disaster relief effort becomes another opportunity to demand more cuts in government spending, to wax poetic about the country being on the verge of becoming another Greece.

Not long ago, funding for 9/11 first responders got caught in this new political reality. This time around, a $60 billion Sandy relief bill was pushed back after fiscal cliff talks were done, and roughly $10 billion of it was approved only after high-profile verbal attacks from a bipartisan group of Congressmen and women from the Northeast convinced, or shamed, House Republicans into taking it up. Still, the rest of the aid will be up for debate, and many will call for cuts elsewhere to offset it.

What’s more interesting is that the South Carolina delegation is at the tip of this spear. The wing of the Republican Party that has said even disaster relief is no longer off limits to partisan fights is heavily supported by many districts in our state – including those on the coast who grow leery of hurricanes at the beginning of every June and don’t breathe a sigh of relief until the end of November. It is notable that new U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-7th District, in one of his first votes, supported the relief bill.

There is good reason to want to rein in government spending at the federal level. The national debt is too large. There are legitimate arguments to be made about even necessary funding bills being filled with pork without much open debate or discussion. The flood insurance system has been abused by those who build homes on the oceanfront, get a large payday after a disaster, and rebuild bigger in harm’s way only to repeat the cycle.

But it is easier to make the case that the deficit should be the top priority when it is someone else’s home in some other state that has been washed into the ocean – instead of ours.

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