Disaster Aid Limited With U.S. Seeing `Years' of Harvey Recovery
(Bloomberg) -- Even as the Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for a years-long recovery from Hurricane Harvey, U.S. disaster relief funds probably won’t be sufficient, raising the prospect of a potential budget fight in Congress.
The storm that slammed into Texas on Friday, which caused catastrophic flooding in Houston as it continued to dump rainfall on the state, is “a landmark event,’’ FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. There are almost 5,000 people from the federal government on site in Texas and Louisiana and the agency is “gearing up for the next couple of years,’’ Long said.
“This is a storm that the United States has not seen yet,’’ Long said on CNN’s “State of the Union’’ program on Sunday.
The severity of the storm is promising to put pressure on Congress to act because the total disaster relief budget for the current and upcoming fiscal years are likely to fall short of what’s needed for Harvey alone. Past opposition to such funding increases could signal a budget fight among lawmakers who are facing deadlines at the end of September for putting a new spending plan in place and for raising the debt ceiling.
The FEMA disaster relief fund had just $3.8 billion as of July 31, with most of that set to be spent by the end of September. The House has proposed adding $6.8 billion in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
A report Friday from CoreLogic estimated that Hurricane Harvey would cause $39.6 billion of damage alone to homes in its immediate path. That figure is closer to the aid package that Congress approved in early 2013 for the East Coast to recover from Superstorm Sandy, which topped $50 billion.
Texas Republican Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn voted against the final Sandy aid package. During that debate, they backed an amendment that would have cut domestic spending to pay for the emergency funding. Cruz at the time said that not all the funds were being allocated properly. Cornyn “voted for a Sandy aid package without the unrelated spending, which included things like repairing fisheries in the Pacific,” said Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie.
Both senators wrote to Texas Governor Greg Abbott Friday urging him to expedite emergency funding for the state this time around.
President Donald Trump on Friday approved Abbott’s request for a major disaster declaration, making federal assistance available to supplement state and local recovery efforts. Trump is expected to travel to Texas on Tuesday, the White House said.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence led a video teleconference with the cabinet and senior administration members on Sunday to discuss ongoing federal support for response and recovery. The president “continued to stress his expectation that all departments and agencies stay fully committed to supporting the governors of Texas and Louisiana,’’ according to a readout provided by the White House.
The president also posted several Twitter messages on Saturday and Sunday lauding the cooperation between federal, state and local authorities and suggesting that the government was up to the challenge of dealing with the historic storm.
“Wow - Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!’’ Trump tweeted on Sunday. “We have an all out effort going, and going well!’’
In his appearance on CNN, Long also was asked whether the response to Harvey will be hampered by vacancies including the lack of a permanent secretary of homeland security and two FEMA deputy director nominees awaiting confirmation.
“I don’t even have time to worry about it right now,’’ Long said. “We’re leaning forward, and we’re going to continue to support the state and local governments.’’