WASHINGTON (AP) -- Several members of the Northwest congressional delegation and Democratic Party officials have decried President Bush's proposal to eliminate a project they say deserves some credit for saving lives during the region's strongest earthquake in 52 years.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Project Impact, a $25 million program designed to help communities prepare for disasters, was among the cuts Bush proposed for the agency Wednesday, the day of the earthquake.
More than 320 injuries were linked to the quake, but most were minor and none was critical. No lives were lost.
Bush's budget blueprint would reduce FEMA's funding by $400 million, to $2 billion, in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said Thursday that Congress will reject the ''unfortunately timed'' Bush proposal. He said the quake is proof that canceling Project Impact is wrong.
''FEMA has helped Seattle get prepared for earthquakes. We've done a lot of work out there,'' he said. ''Now we are going to see what happens when you make cuts in budgets.''
Seattle Project Impact is a public-private partnership designed to promote safer homes, schools and businesses before earthquakes and other natural disasters happen. In January 1998, Seattle became part of a seven-city pilot program.
Project Impact now includes 250 cities nationwide.
About half of the city's $1 million grant has been used to retrofit homes to be sure they are structurally sound should an earthquake strike. Seattle Public Schools has been using some of the money to remove overhead hazards, such a radiators and flush tanks that are part of older plumbing and heating systems, among other projects.
The money also has been used to map earthquake and landslide hazards using historical and scientific information.
''Nothing can prevent an earthquake, but we can work to minimize the damage in their aftermath,'' Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said. ''Many experts have warned about the potential cost of Bush's plan to cut important programs.''
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said people should look at the president's budget in its entirety. A $842 billion contingency fund to address a range of emergencies is just one of many hazard-mitigation grant programs, he said.
''If one looks at the way communities do spend this (Project Impact money), some communities certainly do use these grants for worthwhile purposes,'' Lisaius said.
But ''there are times when they are spent on things that are not necessarily related to emergency preparedness,'' he said, citing the use of Project Impact funds for inappropriate programs such as Boy Scout training in Delaware.
Plus, Lisaius said, the FEMA inspector general's office has found that in some communities, as much as 64 percent of the funds were unspent two years after the grant was awarded.
Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., echoed that point Thursday night.
''These are one-time grants,'' Dunn said. ''We spent it very wisely -- not always the case in other states.''
Bush is making cuts throughout the federal government to free money for a $1.6 trillion tax cut.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she could think of a trillion ways to spend federal dollars to help people -- for programs such as Project Impact, for example, or a smaller tax cut.
''Project Impact funds have made an incredible difference. We have a good story to tell,'' she said.
Murray and other members of the delegation flew to Washington state Wednesday night with FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, who toured quake damage Thursday.
Allbaugh said that while Project Impact undoubtedly helped, it was only a small part of federal efforts of disaster preparedness.
''There are many mitigation programs that are in effect across the country. I'm sure it added to a portion of being prepared,'' he said.
Allbaugh said he didn't want to talk about the future of the program, but instead was focusing on assessing the damage.
''I don't think the president wants to cut back on federal assistance,'' he said.
Murray said Thursday the fact the quake didn't cause more damage was ''a wonderful show of what that project has done.
''Preparation is key. Obviously this is the example we will use as we try to restore the funds. I don't think we should be cutting FEMA anywhere.''
In Washington, King, Pierce, Walla Walla, Kitsap and Clark counties are also Project Impact communities. Five Oregon counties -- Benton, Tillamook, Multnomah, Deschutes and Clackamas -- are part of the program.
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