House Committee Approves $36.5 Billion in Hurricane and Wildfire Recovery Aid

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 11, 2017

Last week, the White House asked Congress for just under $30 billion in disaster aid funding to help relief efforts in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes and wildfires over the last month. Yesterday (October 10), the House Committee on Appropriations advanced a bill that, if approved, would provide $36.5 billion in emergency funding.

Per a statement issued by the committee, the bill includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, $16 billion in funding for the National Flood Insurance program and $576 million to fight and recover from the wildfires raging in the West. The bill also adds a provision to the Disaster Nutrition Assistance Program that provides emergency food assistance to people with low incomes in Puerto Rico so that residents will "receive the same emergency nutrition assistance that other hurricane-affected states already receive."

People living in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida were hardest hit by hurricanes. Fully 76 percent of the 107,000-person population of the U.S. Virgin Islands is Black, and 99 percent of the 3.3 million people living in Puerto Rico identify as Latinx. Per Puerto Rico’s relief monitoring website, just 10.6 percent of the power grid has been restored.

“These funds are vital right now, in the near term, to get the aid where it is needed most. However, the recovery in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida will be ongoing, and more assistance will be required in the near future,” committee chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in the statement. “My committee will be vigilant in overseeing these funds and will continually monitor this crisis, and stands ready to provide the necessary funding to get these communities back on their feet.”

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency recently moved to repeal a rule that curbed power plant greenhouse gas emissions, which cause the global warming that scientists have linked to increased storm activity and intensified wildfires.

There is no word yet on when the bill will go to the full House for a vote. Read the text here.

In related news, Reuters reports that President Donald Trump asked Congress yesterday to issue a $4.9 billion loan to the government of Puerto Rico to help it pay bills in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The request came after the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) alerted Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin that the commonwealth will run out of money by the end October, making it impossible to pay healthcare providers, first responders and teachers.

The FOMB also sent Trump a letter urging financial support following his visit to Puerto Rico. From that October 6 letter:

While it remains too early for us to provide a damage assessment, a preliminary report from Moody’s Analytics suggested it could be approximately $95 billion, which is roughly 150 percent of Puerto Rico’s annual GNP. Moreover, the FOMB believes that Hurricanes Irma and Maria will cause Puerto Rico’s central government and some of its instrumentalities to face severe cash shortfalls from lower revenues, higher costs, and delayed or reduced cost-saving measures that had been required by the FOMB’s fiscal plans.

That is why the FOMB urges the federal government to heed the governor’s calls for the maximum federal assistance to Puerto Rico to help it respond to and to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This federal assistance should come in the form of grants and reimbursements to assist Puerto Rico in responding to the catastrophic damage it has suffered, and pursuant to an emergency liquidity program, low-interest loans to assist Puerto Rico in responding to its cashflow deficiencies.