FEMA For Me: How Bernie Sanders Loves Disaster Relief When It Aids His Home State

On Wednesday at the CNN climate town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders shared his stance on FEMA and emergency assistance as a response to a question from an audience member. The exchange went as follows:

QUESTION: Hello, Professor, or Senator. I wanted to ask you about FEMA rules. FEMA rules. Are you in favor of changing FEMA rules to encourage retreat from properties that have suffered repeated catastrophic losses?


QUESTION: And if so, how would you implement those changes in a way that's fair and equitable?

SANDERS: Well, as I understand what you're saying, we have the absurd situation where FEMA will only pay to repair a facility or a piece of infrastructure where it was before it was destroyed. That's pretty stupid. I mean, if it was destroyed once and you rebuild it, it's destroyed twice, it doesn't make a lot of sense to put it there again. So the answer is, absolutely.

Which raises even the broader question of how we're going to protect communities -- look, we're not going to turn this thing around tomorrow. I worry very much -- I was just in South Carolina last week. There are scientists who think that parts of Charleston, South Carolina, parts of Miami will be underwater. What do we do to protect those communities? What do we do to protect poor people and people of color, by the way, who are often the hardest hit by environmental degradation and the impact of climate change? And we have substantial sums of money to do that, as well.

COOPER: So would people in coastal communities, have a house right on the beach, would they have to move? 

SANDERS: Well, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to rebuild that house so that it is, you know, knocked down again in the next storm. And what you are...

COOPER: So how do you make that happen as president? 

SANDERS: Well, all of -- well, you do your best through carrots and sticks at the federal level. But, you know, if people want to rebuild in an area which will be devastated by the next storm, they're certainly not going to get any federal assistance from my administration to do that. 
Immediately after the debate, Sanders was ripped for his response due in large part for his inability to understand that many low-income people of color simply cannot get up and move simply because they're in the potential path of a storm. (Hurricane Katrina, anyone?) Criticism also came from those who brought up the example of Puerto Rico, an American territory that was devasted by Hurricane Maria last year and that sits in an area that will experience more and more extreme weather due to climate change. Additionally, the examples of New York City and Hurricane Sandy as well as California's seasonal wildfires were brought up as to whether or not a President Sanders would actually refuse aid to two of the country's most populous regions simply because they happen to be negatively impacted by extreme weather.

Valid as all these criticisms were, an unreported part of Sanders' comments were that he previously had supported FEMA when it provided disaster relief to his home state of Vermont. In 2011, Vermont was hit hard with flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Irene and it was none other than Sanders who advocated for quick and immediate FEMA relief. From Sanders' official website:

Senator Leahy, Congressman Welch and I have been working closely with Governor Shumlin to do everything we can to make sure that Vermont receives the resources from the federal government that we need to rebuild our communities as quickly and successfully as possible. We have accomplished much in the six months since the storm - but clearly, we have more work to do.
The deadline for applying for FEMA and SBA assistance has now passed (except for SBA business economic injury loans which have a June 1, 2012 deadline), but many Vermonters are still waiting to hear on FEMA and/or SBA appeals, or from their insurance companies.  I understand this can be stressful, as there are a number of agencies involved.  I hope the information presented below is helpful in terms of understanding the process.  If you need further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to call my office at 1-800-339-9834 (toll free), or 802-862-0697. You can also contact us online by clicking here.  
And this wasn't even the only time Bernie Sanders advocated for FEMA relief. In August of 2012, Sanders strongly advocated for FEMA to provide disaster relief to prepare the state complex building in Waterbury that was damaged by Irene. Sanders even went so far as to say, "I believe that FEMA should cover some of these costs." Nearly four years later, in July of 2016, Sanders proudly announced that Vermont had received a $1.3 million grant from FEMA to create a super-size culvert that would help prevent flooding of the Neshobe River which occurred as a result of Irene. As recently as April of 2019, Sanders had been supportive of FEMA as they provided $1.15 million to repair the Colchester Causeway, a project in line with FEMA's annual practice of providing grants to failing infrastructure projects throughout the country.

So would a President Bernie Sanders deny the state of Vermont FEMA aid if the state got struck by another storm?

Clearly, the answer is no as Bernie Sanders doesn't blame the people of Vermont for living there. After all, Sanders himself chose to live there after leaving New York City, one of the cities he would potentially deny aid to as president. Rooted in Sanders' stance is the inherently racist view that those coastal cities with more diverse populations are somehow undeserving of being helped by the federal government in times of crisis. What Sanders is implying is that those people have the same resources he once had and that they can simply get up and move inland and away from harm. Lost on Sanders is the idea that people have been in the same home for generations and that they can't simply relocate from a place like New York City to a place like Vermont overnight. They don't choose to put themselves in danger because they want to but because they have no other choice. 

In the end, Bernie Sanders once again proved that he would make a terrible president. Like Donald Trump, he would willingly deny aid to American citizens in the wake of a natural disaster. A Sanders administration would be no better than a Trump one and Sanders' stance on FEMA and disaster relief has been the latest example that they are two sides of the same coin.

And America deserves better than flipping a coin to determine our next president.

Like what you read? Keep us going.