The fourth time was the charm. A multi-billion-dollar federal disaster-aid package, three times blocked from unanimous consent in the U.S. House by individual representatives, finally crossed the finish line this week.
The $19.1 billion legislation, already overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and expected to receive President Trump’s signature despite his reservations, passed the House on Monday on a 354-58 vote. All “no” votes came from Republicans, who wanted the measure to include more money — funds to address the “disaster” of the migrant crisis at the southern U.S. border.
The relief package is intended to help Americans hit by tornadoes, wildfires, drought, floods and volcanoes, among other disasters. There is also additional money to help Puerto Rico — remember, residents there are American citizens — which from the start received short shrift after hurricanes devastated the island going on two years ago.
Certainly, assisting our fellow citizens struck by disasters is part of the role and responsibility of government. Over the years, that assistance has come to the tri-state area on several occasions. Anyone who doubts that needs to take a stroll along Dubuque’s floodwall.
Though some will label it as insensitive, especially while people are struggling to recover from a disaster, there is a question that too many are unwilling to ask: Should government keep helping people rebuild in locations where they never should have built in the first place?
Natural disasters can and do happen anyplace. But is the damage exacerbated — and taxpayer expense raised — when homes and businesses are constructed in disaster-prone areas? Are they just tempting fate?
When subdivisions are carved into wildfire-prone California forests, and wildfires occur, should taxpayers be on the hook to help those homes be rebuilt in the same wildfire-prone districts? When seaside vacation homes constructed on the dunes of North Carolina are wiped out in one of that region’s frequent hurricanes, should government step in to help them rebuild on the same spot?
It doesn’t always happen that way. Twenty years ago, in northeast Iowa, the little town of Littleport was devastated by floodwaters of the Turkey and Volga rivers. For the umpteenth time. Government stepped in with assistance — this time, not to rebuild in the same place and await the next flood, but to shutter the town and help residents relocate. Some built anew above the river valley and some moved to other communities. Within a couple of years, what remained of Littleport was bulldozed.
Obviously, it’s easier to deal with a few dozen residents and structures in a Littleport than other locations. But government needs to consider distinctions between totally unavoidable disasters and situations where the damage from weather, fires and floods could have been mitigated through different decisions.