The White House requested Congress approve $44 billion in disaster relief in what would be the largest single round of disaster aid to address the widespread damage inflicted by hurricanes and wildfires over the last three months. It is the third request since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria slammed the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. The new request would add another $24 billion to the disaster relief this fall and bring the total close to $100 billion. It would also establish a new $12 billion grant program for flood risk mitigation projects. Smaller amounts would go to small business loans and to aid farmers suffering crop losses.
The White House is proposing the increased funding be offset by cuts to federal programs in hopes to deter members from Congress who might not vote for a disaster assistance package that adds to the deficit. Two previous disaster relief bills totaling nearly $51.8 billion that Congress approved earlier this year had no such offsets.
And that’s before most of the money to rebuild Puerto Rico’s devastated housing stock and electric grid is added in. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked the federal government for $94.3 billion in disaster relief funds to help repair critical infrastructure and rebuild housing following Hurricane Maria. He said the sum will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria. Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power almost two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall. More than 10 percent of the island is still without running water.
The largest chunk of Rosselló’s request, $31 billion, goes to housing assistance with $17.7 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care. “This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico where we’re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” Rosselló said. Ricardo Rosello also urged Congress to adopt a tax overhaul plan that addresses the territory’s specific needs to avoid an exodus of the companies that currently generate 42% of the island’s gross domestic product.
The relief request is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas. The Florida congressional delegation has asked for $27 billion. It is likely that Congress will pare down the amount as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.