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“Irene” Puts Brakes On Missouri Disaster Funding

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ST. LOUIS (AP) -  The federal government has frozen some aid to tornado- and flood-ravaged Missouri and the South to focus on immediate help for victims of Hurricane Irene, disappointing residents and officials who said Monday they still need help.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Bob Josephson said FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund is running low, down to between $800 million and $1 billion.

When that happens, the agency focuses on immediate response, rather than long-term rebuilding.

It also needs to ensure there’s enough money to respond to any other disasters that might occur this year, he said.

The shift drew criticism from Missouri’s senators, who promised to push to get full funding restored for Joplin, where a May 22 tornado killed 160 people and damaged about 7,500 homes, and other parts of the country hit by disasters earlier this year.

“I do, candidly, worry because folks in other parts of the country feel the world revolves around the corridor between Washington and New York City,” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press. “What happened in southwest Missouri was huge devastation compared to what Irene did over the weekend.”

Lawmakers in both parties have been frustrated with President Barack Obama’s budget office, which has only requested $1.8 billion for the FEMA disaster fund despite a long-documented shortfall for disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and massive flooding in Tennessee last spring.

House Republicans moved to double that funding this spring after tornadoes killed hundreds in Missouri and Alabama, but the legislation failed to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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