Recovering from Catastrophes: Federal Disaster Relief Policy and Politics

Recovering from Catastrophes: Federal Disaster Relief Policy and Politics

Recovering from Catastrophes: Federal Disaster Relief Policy and Politics

Recovering from Catastrophes: Federal Disaster Relief Policy and Politics

Synopsis

This book examines the evolution of federal disaster relief policy, assesses problems with current policy, and provides an understanding of the issues likely to be involved in future deliberations about federal policy. While examining its formulation, May describes this policy making in two different political environments: the charged atmosphere immediately following the catastrophe and, secondly, the calm between catastrophes. Local, state, and federal government conflicts are illustrated in a case study of Mount St. Helens; intergovernmental partnerships in this arena are discussed in relation to other relief efforts. May stresses the political implications of disaster relief in his analysis of the electoral benefits and influence politicians derive from their attempts to influence federal disaster relief efforts. Finally he addresses the economic considerations and future directions for federal disaster relief policy. Three distinct policy approaches and their tradeoffs provide an overview of the options for future policy making.

Excerpt

Various outcomes of disaster relief policy were addressed in the previous parts of the book. the discussion of the intergovernmental and electoral aspects of disaster relief might be called the "political outcomes" of disaster relief. However, such political effects are only part of the story. When considering the substance of disaster relief policy perhaps the most important outcome is effectiveness in bringing disaster-struck individuals and communities back to predisaster conditions. This is extremely difficult to measure, especially when viewed in terms of social well-being. This chapter contains a more modest undertaking in attempting to address one aspect of the effect of disaster relief policy on well-being: the economic outcomes of federal disaster relief policy.

Several economic considerations are discussed in what follows. First, there are the direct economic outcomes of federal relief efforts as gauged by comparing the geographic (and demographic) distribution of disaster losses with the distribution of relief assistance. a second consideration is the cost to the federal government, and taxpayers, of providing federal assistance. and in light of recent shifts in federal policy, a third consideration is the changing composition of the burden of disaster assistance among governmental and private sources.

Each of these economic considerations is a potentially important aspect of future policy debates. Differences in the distribution of losses and the distribution of disaster assistance are important because they indicate gaps in relief programs. the amount of federal relief expenditures is important because recent increases in relief outlays have been catalysts for policy changes aimed at reducing federal disaster assistance. and the changing composition of the financial burden of relief assistance is important because it reflects normative judgments concerning the respective roles of governmental and private entities in providing assistance.

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