Trump’s call for disaster aid billions succeeds
THE HOUSE is on track to backing President Donald Trump’s request for billions more in disaster aid, $16 billion (R216bn) to pay flood insurance claims and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.
Yesterday’s hurricane aid package totals $36.5bn and sticks close to a White House request, ignoring – for now – huge demands from the powerful Florida and Texas delegations, who together pressed for $40bn more.
A steady series of disasters – massive flooding in Texas, hurricane damage in Florida and a humanitarian crisis in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico – could be putting 2017 on track to rival Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of disasters ever. Katrina required about $110bn in emergency appropriations.
The bill combines $18.7bn for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) with $16bn to permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance programme pay an influx of hurricane Harvey-related claims.
Up to $5bn of the Fema money could be used to help local governments – especially Puerto Rico’s central government and the island’s local governments – remain functional as they endure unsustainable cash shortfalls in the aftermath of Maria, which has choked off revenues and strained resources.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was scheduled to travel to Puerto Rico today. He has promised that the US territory will get what it needs, but most of the island remains without power and many of its more isolated residents still lack drinking water.
“It’s not easy when you’re used to living an American way of life, and then somebody tell you you’re going to be without power for six or eight months,” said resident commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico as a non-voting member of Congress. “It’s not easy when you continue to suffer – see the suffering of the people without food, without water, and actually living in a humanitarian crisis.”
Republicans controlling Congress, who had protracted debates last year on modest requests by former president Barack Obama to combat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michigan repair its leadtainted water system, are moving quickly to take care of this year’s alarming series of disasters, quickly passing a $15.3bn measure last month and signalling that another instalment is coming next month.
Several lawmakers from hurricane-hit states said a third interim aid request was expeted shortly – with a final, huge hurricane recovery and rebuilding package likely to be acted upon by the end of the year.
“Another tranche is coming in maybe two, three weeks,” said representative Pete Olsen from Texas. Democrats embraced the package, which was before lawmakers yesterday. It includes an estimated $1bn added by the House Appropriations Committee to address California’s ongoing wildfire disasters, a priority for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. – AP