Congress expected to OK more hurricane aid for Puerto Rico, Texas

Roofs ripped off houses in San Juan, Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria slammed into the city on September 20, 2017.

Congress is expected to take up another disaster aid package to help victims in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and the US Virgin Islands still struggling to recover from a string of devastating hurricanes.

The Trump administration sent a request for $29 billion to House and Senate leaders Wednesday that would give roughly $13 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies helping hurricane victims with infrastructure and basic needs. It would also give $16 billion to increase the borrowing authority for the national flood insurance program so it can continue to cover losses for those whose homes were affected by the storms.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent a letter detailing the request, saying that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria has been “unprecedented.”

“With more than 20,000 Federal employees deployed my multiple agencies and working in multiple locations, we need the help of Congress to stabilize the affected communities and replenish dwindling and depleted funds,” Mulvaney wrote.

Last month President Donald Trump signed a measure approved by Congress that provided $15 billion in emergency funding, but GOP leaders noted that they expected there would be additional needs. Congress said they would need to sign off on more federal money for those states and US territories still reeling from the powerful wind and record high flood levels.

“This will be a long process, and this next round of funds certainly won’t be all that is needed. We will continue to monitor each disaster closely and will work to ensure that both short-term relief and long-term recovery funds are available and are being put to good use for those in need,” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said after receiving the administration’s letter.

Just as Congress readies to approve this second supplemental spending bill for hurricanes, the Texas delegation sent a letter to top House and Senate leaders warning much more will be needed. They asked for another $18.7 billion to address the damage from Harvey.

The House is expected to approve the $29 billion measure next week, and a vote on that package in the Senate could come in mid-October, according to several GOP congressional aides.

In the past Republicans have urged spending cuts to cover increased federal funding measures, but one key conservative admitted that in the case of Hurricane relief that was not going to happen.

“Obviously, I would love offsets for any additional spending we have but emergency spending is exactly that — it’s emergency, so typically holding out for offsets is not something that’s a position that you can maintain for any length of time,” North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Thursday.

The administration also asked for more than $575 million as part of the same bill to combat wildfires in Western states.