Federal government, aid groups work to spread relief

Published: Sep. 7, 2017 at 9:30 PM CDT
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With Hurricane Irma expected to follow a devastating path along the south east, Harvey already wreaking havoc in the Gulf and wildfires raging in at least five states, millions of people across the nation are facing a major emergency.

Thursday the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a more than $15 billion aid package for victims of Harvey, but the need for federal aid is expected to grow with so many disasters striking at once.

The Senate's aid package also included a deal to increase the debt limit and fund government programs through December 8th. While many conservative lawmakers are cringing at the idea of increasing America’s debt, South Dakota’s Senators say it's a needed step.

“In times of emergencies, everybody comes together and there are certain times in which it is ok to deficit spend,” Senator Mike Rounds said. That means it’s a lot easier to put together a package where people are suffering, where people are hurt, where there's been property damage because you take care of those people first and you worry about paying the bill later.”

South Dakota Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune agree one of the federal government's biggest roles is to help Americans in times of greatest need.

"When natural disasters strike, the American people always rise to the occasion to help friends, neighbors, and total strangers who are in need. It's important for Congress to do its part, too, which means providing targeted funding to those Americans who need it the most,” Senator Thune said.

“It is a lot to handle but we are definitely seeing the generosity of Americans across the country stepping up and here in South Dakota,” Southeastern South Dakota American Red Cross Director Jennifer Ross said.

Relief organizations like the American Red Cross are also working to meet the growing need across the country.

“We were very aware when we responded to Hurricane Harvey that we were not through hurricane season, the wildfires had started and we were managing those, so keeping that situational awareness across our entire nation is something we're always doing,” Ross said.

“It’s not just the disasters on the southern part of the United States with hurricanes, but we also have had discussions about the wildfires in the western United States as well,” Senator Rounds said. “We've talked about the drought situation in places like South Dakota and when you have that discussion, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, really do pay attention and listen to one another on what those issues are.”

Rounds said the aid package the Senate passed Thursday does not require lawmakers to take funding away from other major federal programs like the Farm Bill or the Department of Defense; he says emergency aid is a separate budget process that is not subject to limitations.

When it comes to the response from people here at home, the Red Cross already had 150 volunteers from southeastern South Dakota sign up for training. Fifty of them have completed training and are standing by to respond to whatever hurricane Irma brings.