My view: Voters should remember that federal assistance has its place

by Sheryl Allen

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Volunteers help Saratoga Springs flooding victims remove mud and water from their homes in Saratoga Springs Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

The good folks of Saratoga Springs have had more than their share of calamities during the summer of 2012 with fires and mudslides. Volunteers by the hundreds have provided immediate assistance. This is not uncommon in Utah, but we do hear about other disasters throughout the United States that have an influx of volunteers after a wrath of nature.

After the December 2011 windstorm in Bountiful, my neighborhood had hundreds of downed trees, most more than 65 feet tall including nine in my yard. As my husband and I assessed the damage, we assumed it would take us thousands of dollars and weeks to clean up. Not so. Volunteers streamed into our neighborhood, and most of the damage and debris was cleaned up within a few days. Wind River Excavation brought in loaders to pull up giant root systems, and the company hauled load after load away without charge. We will be forever amazed and grateful.

Many power lines were ruined, but power was restored to the neighborhood after outages that lasted several days. The power line repair was dangerous, and repairmen and women came from throughout Utah to assist.

Utah did not stand alone in this clean up and restoration work after the windstorm. Bountiful City recently received $1 million from the federal government for electrical equipment repair, city building damage repair and salaries for the emergency relief efforts. For a city of 42,500, this is an extremely helpful reimbursement. Davis County has received $276,000 for debris removal from the flood control system.

Saratoga Springs and Utah have received extensive assistance from the federal government for fire suppression this year and in previous years. Mayor Mia Love has asked Gov. Gary Herbert for assistance for Saratoga Springs. That is appropriate, but Saratoga Springs may also be eligible for some federal assistance. Perhaps Love cannot publicly state that because of her political position to reduce or abolish so many critical federal government programs.

Let's be honest, in the event of big disasters, both volunteers and federal assistance are needed. When the big earthquake hits Utah, I hope that federal assistance will come and come very quickly.

The federal government is not the enemy. The federal government is us and our fellow citizens in New York, Iowa and Oregon. When the 2008 recession hit, the federal government increased funding to public education by $200 million in Utah. School districts still had to make painful cuts as state funds were reduced by 13 percent, but thanks to increased federal funds, education cuts were not draconian.

Now that our country is in a slow economic recovery, we all know that federal spending will need to be decreased in order to reduce the federal deficit. Because the national debt is so enormous, most of us also realize that some taxes will need to be raised or many tax deductions eliminated — or both. But Congress should deal with this realistically. Do we really want to abolish federal funding for special education, school lunches, funding for PBS (the best thing on television) and drastically reduce or even eliminate federal disaster funding?

As voters, we should remember that federal assistance can be not only apposite but essential. We need to elect officials who will cautiously reduce the budgets of federal programs that serve the public interest rather than decimate them.

Sheryl Allen is a former member of the Utah House of Representatives and a board member of Alliance for a Better Utah

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