Updated 1:45 p.m.
The federal government’s disaster relief fund has enough money to continue distributing storm aid through the end of the week — longer than originally estimated, and maybe just long enough to avoid another congressional spending showdown.
The relief fund, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for presidentially declared disasters, had $114 million on hand as of Monday morning, the agency said. Revised estimates over the weekend determined that the fund should remain solvent if there are no new natural or man-made disasters, the agency said. The fund’s solvency also depends on the number of disaster survivors who might apply for federal assistance this week, but the agency said it has no way of estimating how many applications would be needed to sap the entire fund since individual assistance payments vary.
Keeping the disaster fund solvent through late Thursday or Friday could help end disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over how to pay for an additional $1 billion in disaster relief funding for fiscal 2011.
Though Republicans propose paying for disaster costs by making cuts to energy programs, Democrats have argued that disaster relief money should be provided without additional spending offsets.
But keeping the disaster fund flush with cash through Friday would allow lawmakers to vote instead on a short-term measure for the first few weeks of fiscal 2012, which already includes $2.65 billion for the fund.
As we’ve reported extensively in recent days, any lapse in funding this week could jeopardize the progress of thousands of reconstruction and disaster-mitigation projects nationwide. At least $447 million worth of projects in 42 states are affected by the funding impasse, caused in part by Hurricane Irene’s 12-state destruction zone. Those delays would end once the fund is replenished at the start of fiscal 2012.
Senators are expected to vote Monday on a short-term funding measure that would avert a government shutdown and provide additional money for FEMA’s disaster fund. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears unlikely to garner enough Republican support to nab the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill, leaving no obvious way forward in the ongoing struggle to avoid a government-wide shutdown.
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