In the wake of an Oklahoma tornado that killed over 50 people, Arkansas congressmen are weighing federal disaster relief options. Both Senators Pryor and Boozeman support a supplemental disaster assistance appropriation. But questions linger over how to fund a relief package.
A similar situation arose after Hurricane Sandy when Representative Tom Cotton was the only member of the Arkansas congressional delegation to vote against disaster aid. Cotton maintained all aid costs must be offset from elsewhere in the budget. Cotton has not commented if this stance extends to needs in Oklahoma.
Cotton's Republican colleague John Boozeman agrees that offsetting costs is optimal but Boozeman says the first priority is to provide help to those in need.
"There will be a supplemental relief bill and I think that we should do all in our power to find the offsets necessary to provide that relief. I think we should immediately make sure that FEMA and the other agencies have the money that they need. And if that's without offsets that's fine," says Boozeman.
Senator Pryor's stance on disaster aid has much in common with Boozeman. Pryor says providing relief takes priority over offsetting costs.
"I support disaster funding. I think this is emergency funding and we don't need to look for an offset. I know some people would like to find an offset. I mean, best case scenario I would too, but we can't let that slow us down. These people need help. It may be that FEMA has the resources right now to help them. But my guess is that we're going to have to ask for some special help there," says Pryor.
Pryor continued, "I know if this happened in Arkansas I would hope that my fellow states would help me and help Arkansas. And that's what I want to do, I want to be there for Oklahoma. I just think when you are in a nation like we have, you're a union of states, if one state is suffering the other states ought to come to their aid. We shouldn't get this caught up in the budget wars in Washington. We need to help people."
No disaster aid bills have been put forth at this time and both Senators agree further storm damage evaluation is needed to verify if funding requirements extend beyond the scope of existing disaster agencies and funds.