Editorial: Federal funds should be used for Sandy relief
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 23:11
The past few years have seen a rise in support for and engagement with a libertarian, small-government political philosophy most clearly symbolized by the Tea Party. Millions of people in this country now take Ronald Reagan’s admonition to heart that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
Political debate is focused intently on reducing the size of the government, cutting public spending and allowing the private sector and individual state governments to assume a greater responsibility for the well-being of the people. But on a week when a powerful hurricane strikes at the heart of the nation’s economy and livelihood, leaving millions in the Northeast without power, bringing an early end to the lives of dozens and causing $20 billion in direct damage, this philosophy rings rather hollow. It is the proper role of the federal government, we contend, to coordinate and provide comprehensive disaster relief to the millions of people who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. If it is wrong for the government to do this, then nothing is right.
As we now know, Hurricane Sandy most directly and severely impacted the state of New Jersey. But the storm also flooded Pennsylvania and New York, thrashed Delaware and Connecticut with violent winds, and buried West Virginia and Maryland in multiple feet of snow. This was truly an interstate natural disaster, deserving of an interstate response. It would be a disservice to those affected to ask their state governments to bear the burden of hurricane relief alone, negotiating from various points of weakness with contractors, builders and insurance companies. A federal response, on the other hand, cannot only mobilize the resources of the entire nation both in the immediate clean-up and the long-term rebuilding effort, but indicates clearly to all Americans who is in charge, who to look to for guidance and leadership and who to blame if things go wrong.
Things have gone wrong, especially in the response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Hurricane Katrina seven years ago. The lessons to be learnt from that debacle, however, have to do with the expertise of the leadership of disaster responses and with the proper level of preparedness and efficiency necessary to conduct a large-scale disaster relief effort. The proper lesson is not, as some conservatives have suggested, to privatize it or devolve it to the states. A tragic moment like this is one of the best opportunities we may ever encounter to unite a nation in care for those of our fellow Americans impacted by Sandy. It should not encourage a division or a weakening of those efforts.