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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he and lawmakers from both parties will continue assessing damages caused by this month’s hurricanes and prepare to move another disaster aid package in October.
Ryan said he can’t rule out the possibility Congress may be looking at more than one multibillion-dollar relief package to augment the $15.25 billion initial relief measure already passed this month after Hurricane Harvey.
“I anticipate there will be more than one piece of legislation moving through Congress, but right now it’s just short-term emergency needs,” Ryan said. “We’re waiting to hear from the [Trump] administration because they’re totaling up what’s going on in Florida and Texas. We’ll see what’s the story in Puerto Rico.”
Ryan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is covered for funds for the time being. However, funds appropriated after Harvey are seen as only a down payment on what will be needed to help Texas recover and won’t be sufficient to also address damages caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
It will take time to complete a needs assessment for the administration to forward its request, Ryan said, adding he expects the House to act “sometime in October.”
“The bigger picture—whether it’s bayous or levees or whatnot—that’s something that we’re going to have to have a longer conversation about: How best to make sure that we can guard against this from happening again,” he said.
Several appropriators joined Ryan in surveying the damage along the Gulf Coast and Florida, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), whose committee will develop the next supplemental spending package.
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, were also part of the large congressional delegation.
Still to be surveyed is the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the storm has knocked out all power.
At present, FEMA and other agencies are drawing money provided by the $15.25 billion “emergency” supplemental (H.R. 601) for fiscal year 2017. The package provided $7.4 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, $7.4 billion for the HUD Community Development Fund, and $450 million for the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Program.
The House initially provided only $7.85 billion in money for the Disaster Relief Fund when the supplemental cleared the House. However, that figure was amended to the $15.25 billion level in the Senate before the supplemental was sent to President Trump for his signature.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said there will need to be multiple supplementals to address the extensive damage seen so far this fall.
“We’ll go back to Congress in October and move at least two more relief packages for Texas and Irma and other disasters around the country,” Cornyn said at a brief press availability with Ryan.
“Obviously this is about short-term, and mid-term and long-term, as the speaker said. And we’re committed all of that,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said they are determined to make sure Texas wins all the funds needed to recover from Harvey.
“Texas, we’ve got your back,” Cruz tweeted. “[Cornyn] and I working steadfastly to ensure Texas can recover & rebuild from Harvey.”
Separately, Cruz and Cornyn led a bipartisan call from members of the Texas delegation to HUD Secretary Ben Carson requesting that HUD allocate the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds intended for Harvey relief immediately. In a letter the lawmakers also urged HUD to lower certain statutory income requirements, give grantees maximum flexibility when funds are dispersed, and shorten the public comment period.
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