At the beginning of hurricane season, the Trump administration shifted nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for disaster relief, to fund detention centers necessitated by President Trump’s immigration policy.
The revelation came from documents the Department of Homeland Security submitted to Congress this week, as the potentially historic Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas.
“This is a scandal,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in a statement. “When American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still suffering from FEMA’s inadequate recovery efforts—the administration transferred millions of dollars away from FEMA.”
The Department of Homeland Security admitted it had received $9.8 million transfer but that it was from an operational account and only 1 percent of FEMA’s budget. Spokesman Tyler Houlton said Merkley was engaged in a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda.” He added: “The money in question — transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses — could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations.”
Merkly disputed that on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday night, referring to budget documents that showed the transfer’s source. “It says that money came from Response and Recovery right on it,” he said. “I would dispute the statement that this has no bearing on addressing the challenges from hurricanes.”
FEMA has an account with $25 billion for disaster response and recovery, according to DHS.
Following the declaration of a “major disaster,” FEMA usually covers 75 percent of the cost of emergency response services; local governments are responsible for 25 percent. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, FEMA covered 100 percent of Puerto Rico’s costs. By the time the agency began scaling back aid in mid-August, it had spent $5 billion.
ICE oversaw the disastrous rollout of Trump’s immigration policy — the administration’s “zero-tolerance” initiative — which saw children separated from their families and held in facilities operated by private contractors. So many children were detained that “tent cities” were constructed to house them. Those beds cost $775 a night, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to ICE’s 2018 budget, one adult detention bed costs $133 a person per night, and one child bed $139 per night. Immigration groups have said the cost is closer to $200. “ICE estimates often lack in transparency and don’t reflect the true cost,” reported CNBC in June. “There’s been so much discrepancy that the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked into ICE’s budget requests and found that its methodology was inaccurate and recommended a change in the way it comes up with its cost estimates.”