With just nine days left to pass crucial legislation and avert a federal, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is watching closely. A FEMA budget that's already tight and an over a bill to keep the government open beyond Sept. 30 — when funding for federal agencies runs out — are threatening to slow aid to communities recovering from natural disasters.
FEMA is running short on money and has indefinitely paused its spending and reimbursement on some long-term recovery projects.
Vermont Democratic Sen. Peter Welch said while the money will eventually be restored, there are concerns in communities affected by natural disasters this summer — where FEMA money is desperately needed.
"We can't mess around with this, bottom line. And it's absolutely inexcusable for us to not help the folks into help the folks in and to help the folks, in this case, in Vermont," Welch said.
Both political parties acknowledge the urgency of replenishing FEMA's disaster funding, but as Congress races against the clock, funding for long-term projects remains uncertain.
Vermont is still recovering from catastrophic flooding in July — and will end up feeling the impact of the squeeze on FEMA.
Mandy Lacefield, a resident of Johnson, Vermont, recalls the terrifying moments she, her teenage son and her husband waded through waist-high water to escape their home.
"We would've drowned in here," Lacefield said.
Their once-beloved home now sits gutted and empty.
"Everything is ruined," she said.
The Lacefields aren't the only ones struggling. Entire towns, villages and communities in the state are grappling with the financial burden of recovery without the expected federal assistance.
In Johnson, the local post office still operates out of a mobile van. Near the state's capital, the city of Barre is still recovering from landslides that destroyed trees and threatened homes.
Nicolas Storellicastro, the city's manager, said the floodwater was "devastating" and "dangerous" and caused streets to "turn into rivers."
For Barre, the cost of repairs is expected to reach millions of dollars, a substantial sum for a city with a budget of only about $13 million. Storellicastro said they are going to need timely reimbursements from Washington, and that any delays will have a big impact.
"For us as a government, it would be devastating in the sense that we cannot, we absolutely cannot front the money to get us back to normal," he said.
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