Center for American Progress

RELEASE: 6 Months After Sandy, Report Links Rise in Disaster Relief Spending to Climate Change
Press Release

Read the report.

Washington, D.C. — Today on the six-month anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the Center for American Progress released “Disastrous Spending: Federal Disaster-Relief Expenditures Rise amid More Extreme Weather,” which estimates that the federal government spent $136 billion for disaster relief and recovery in 2011 to 2013. This is nearly $400 per home per year. In addition to Sandy, the United States experienced 24 floods, storms, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires that each caused at least $1 billion in damages in 2011 and 2012. Combined, these extreme weather events were responsible for 1,107 fatalities and up to $188 billion in economic damages.

As extreme weather events due to climate change increase in frequency and/or ferocity, it is critical to get an accurate account of how much disaster relief costs the government and taxpayers and to plan for the future by building community resiliency. CAP could not identify such a comprehensive estimate of federal spending in Fiscal Years 2011, 2012, and 2013. The Office of Management and Budget reported that the federal government spent $2.5 billion on disasters in fiscal year 2011, while CAP identified $21.4 billion in spending.

Key recommendations for responding to potential growth in disasters and relief spending:

  • Determine the cost of extreme weather to the federal government and taxpayers
  • Develop a federal community-resilience fund to help communities protect themselves from future extreme weather
  • Pay for the resilience fund by levying a user fee on fossil fuels
  • Slash the carbon pollution responsible for climate change

Currently, public officials lack complete knowledge about annual federal spending on disaster relief and recovery—a major omission at a time when scientists expect that extreme weather will likely increase in frequency and/or severity due to climate change. Calculating the actual cost of disasters to the federal government and taxpayers should strengthen the case for assisting communities with their resilience plans, which will reduce future damages and reduce taxpayer spending for recovery. Knowledge about the true household share of disaster spending costs due to climate-related extreme weather should empower people to urge public officials to attack climate change.

Read the report: Disastrous Spending: Federal Disaster-Relief Expenditures Rise amid More Extreme Weather by Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman

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