Coastal communities that were hit hard by last year’s dreadful hurricane season are getting some much-needed help this week. Congress has passed a budget deal that includes $400 million in supplemental disaster funds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Our nation’s premier ocean agency has played a critical role in hurricane response—from weather forecasts to the immediate emergency response to the longer-term recovery—and these funds allow them to continue that important work.
Supplemental funds for NOAA will support critical coastal recovery efforts, including:
- $18 million dollars toward cleaning up debris-clogged waterways and beaches, which will reduce hazards for people and wildlife
$200 million to help fishermen around the country whose livelihoods have been impacted by an array of fisheries disasters
- $100 million to enhance our ability to predict future hurricanes and to better predict and even work towards preventing, future flooding
Communities impacted by recent hurricanes are heavily dependent on ocean and coastal resources. In Puerto Rico, 7% of jobs are in the ocean economy. In Florida, the ocean economy is worth $28 billion in GDP and employs nearly 500,000 people. The additional funds passed today will go a long way toward recovery of the ocean and coastal resources that support these economic benefits.
Unfortunately, there are still two key threats to NOAA’s hurricane recovery effort.
First, there are some gaps in the bill that passed today—funds were not set aside for habitat restoration despite extensive damage to coral reefs and other important ocean habitats, or for building more resilient coasts to prepare for future storms. NOAA’s scientists and experts will have to make do with the funds in NOAA’s yearly budget to help communities in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas address those needs.
Second, and even more alarming, NOAA’s annual budget—the only funds that have been available to support recovery so far—is under extreme threat. Last year the Trump administration proposed a crippling $1 billion cut to NOAA. Thanks to a public outcry that spanned from sea to shining sea, these cuts have not yet become a reality. But we will find out on Monday whether the Trump administration continues to believe that NOAA should be chopped by $1 billion. A cut of that magnitude would mean that today’s step forward for coastal communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico is really just two steps back.
Stay tuned for more information after the Trump administration’s next budget proposal is released next week.