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The Political Economy of FEMA Disaster Payments

We explore whether presidential and congressional influences affect the rate of disaster declaration and the allocation of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) disaster expenditures across states. We find that states politically important to the president have a higher rate of disaster declaration by the president, and that FEMA disaster expenditures are higher in states having congressional representation on FEMA oversight committees. Our models predict that nearly half of all disaster relief is motivated politically rather than by need. The findings reject a purely altruistic model of FEMA assistance and question the relative effectiveness of government versus private disaster relief.

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