The Trump administration took almost $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's budget this summer to help boost U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to budget documents shared with USA TODAY.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) charged that the Trump administration was taking money away from FEMA at a critical time - as Florence barreled toward the East Coast - so that more money could go toward immigration enforcement.
DHS officials said the account supports FEMA headquarters operational expenses and can not be used for disaster response.
The budget documents, first made public by Senator Jeff Merkley (D) OR on Tuesday show the transfer would help fund immigration detention centers, and $4 million of which taken directly from FEMA's response and recovery OR preparedness and protection categories.
The agency that spearheads the federal response to natural disasters is down almost $10 million out of its $15 billion budget.
However, the document from the Department of Homeland Security specifically mentions the money would come from the agency's budgets for travel, training, public engagement and information technology work. Instead, it was money from an administrative account, and there is $25.6 billion in FEMA Disaster Relief Fund.
After the devastation of last year's storms - the triple wallop of Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma - FEMA should have the funds it needs to be prepared for another disastrous hurricane season.
The senator claims the money will support immigration detention programs.
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But that $10 million was just a fraction of the $169 million that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) redirected to ICE in August.
A spokesman for DHS denied any disaster relief funding was transferred to immigration enforcement.
FEMA even contacted Merkley's office to explain the facts - to no avail.
Merkley, a Democrat from OR, said on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" that the administration is taking money from "response and recovery" and "working hard to find funds for additional detention camps". But that is still less than 1% of its overall operations budget.
Congress sets funding levels for all parts of government through the appropriations process, but funding reprogramming requests like this one are authorized under the law for relatively small amounts of money within agencies.
Doesn't Congress get a say how money is spent?
House lawmakers were told about the decision to make the payment from FEMA to ICE in late July. That includes staff, meetings and exercises, he said - all crucial to readiness for the next hurricane season.