FEMA fights ‘rumors’ as Florence arrives, including reports that $10M was given to ICE

As Hurricane Florence pummels the southeastern seaboard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency took to the web Friday to push back against “rumors” about evacuations and FEMA’s own budget — including that money was siphoned away to deal with illegal immigration.

President Trump retweeted FEMA’s “rumor control” web page Friday morning, just before Florence made landfall, and as Homeland Security, which oversees the agency, is still fighting reports that it shifted the money that could have been used to help evacuees.

FEMA insists the nearly $10 million was leftover crash from operations such as staff training, and none of the money came from — or could be used for — emergency response.

“Funding was diverted from FEMA’s operational budgets for travel, training, public engagement and information technology,” the agency said on the page. “The amount diverted is less than 1 percent of FEMA’s annual operating budget.”

A report given to Congress earlier this year detailed a total of about $200 million in money shifted from other Homeland Security accounts to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Secret Service budgets.

Money came from the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration and even from within ICE itself.

“Without the transfers and reprogramming identified in this notification, ICE will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirements in FY 2018. Insufficient funding could require ICE to release any new book-ins and illegal border violators,” the report read.

The extra funds were intended to help with rising costs in providing beds to adults ICE custody and airfare transportation. The report noted the airfare costs went up by 28 percent because of an “active protest” that required the government to find sign a new carrier contract.

More than $23 million in money from CBP was taken from funds set aside for the border wall. About $25 million was taken from various departments within TSA, and ICE had $26 million redistributed from operations and support.

Regarding agencies that intervene during natural disasters, DHS redistributed a total of about $38 million. FEMA had $9.5 million cut from operations and support, while the Coast Guard had $29 million cut from various departments.

Most of the Coast Guard cuts were taken from maintenance accounts and incentive packages for new hires. The report notes that the impact to the agency would not be significant because, “it represents cost savings from matured contract processes for the various acquisition programs.”

“Mission impact is minimized as FEMA will curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance, and IT investments in the legacy grants systems for transition to the Grants Management Modernization Program,” the report read.

Reports of the money redistribution gained traction after Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon made part of the report public on “The Rachel Maddow Show.” The Washington Post also reported on the issue after getting a full copy of the DHS request packet from Mr. Merkley’s office.

Both reports focused on the cuts to FEMA, which were made public just days before Hurricane Florence made landfall southeastern coast.

But Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had made the money shifting public months ago, telling the Congressional Hispanic Caucus she was looking at across-the-board trims to bolster ICE amid an illegal immigration crisis.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this article. 

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