Trump Moved FEMA Funds to ICE at Start of Hurricane Season

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration shifted nearly $10 million from the federal agency in charge of hurricane and natural disaster response at the start of hurricane season to help fund the enforcement of immigration policies.

The transfer of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was to help the Immigration and Customs Enforcement with detention and removal of undocumented immigrants, according to documents the Department of Homeland Security submitted to members of Congress.

“This is a scandal,” Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley said in a statement, after his office released the documents. “When American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still suffering from FEMA’s inadequate recovery efforts—the administration transferred millions of dollars away from FEMA.”

DHS acknowledged the transfer of $9.8 million funds to ICE but said it was from an operational account and made up less than 1 percent of the agency’s budget. Merkley’s allegation was a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda” as a Category 4 storm headed for the coast of the Carolinas, DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement.

“The money in question -- transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses -- could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations,” Houlton said.

Asked about the issue during a briefing on U.S. preparations for Hurricane Florence, which is currently barreling toward the U.S. Southeast coast as a Category 4 storm, FEMA Associate Administrator Jeff Byard said the agency still had “plenty” of resource to respond. FEMA has an account with $25 billion that is to be used for disaster response and recovery, according to DHS.

“This has not impacted our situation whatsoever,” Byard told reporters.

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