On Flood Relief

1927_Mississippi_Flood_Levee_Breach

In the summer of 1927, floods devastated communities up and down the Mississippi River Valley while storms in the Northeast produced flash floods in President Coolidge’s home state of Vermont. Over 200 people perished and half-a-million more lost homes and land to the water. There was intense pressure to construct an expansive federal oversight of relief and prevention efforts. This was all the more so because earlier legislation (from 1922) had prepared preventive measures along the Mississippi only to have the extent of the flooding surpass those attempts.

The President made the case repeatedly for approaching this problem – no less emotionally and politically-charged – with the same careful eye for economy that abhorred waste and defended those who would ultimately bear the heaviest burden for any federal aid programs: the people of the several states, both those impacted and those not impacted at all by the natural disasters. In the end, Coolidge ensured a much less expensive and far more focused piece of legislation than Congress would have instinctively, or if left to itself, crafted.

He would remark during one of his bi-weekly press conferences that summer (on May 10, 1927):

“The Country is making very good response to the appeal of the Red Cross to furnish money for the relief of those that are suffering on account of the flood, but the area of the flood keeps increasing so that the Red Cross will certainly need all the money that it can secure. I would like to emphasize the continuing need for relief and my appreciation of the response the Country is making.”

Coolidge fought for states assuming a not insignificant share of the costs being appropriated while encouraging private charity as the most meaningful remedy in times of distress. His outlook remains a wise one even as the great work of the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, and many more charitable and religious groups take up the personal duty following Hurricane Florence of loving one’s neighbor.

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