The White House on Wednesday asked Congress for nearly $30 billion in new funding to pay for a wave of natural disasters, including hurricanes in Texas, Florida and island territories and wildfires scorching western states.
The funding request includes $12.77 billion for the federal disaster relief fund; nearly $577 million to address wildfires; and a request to raise the federal flood insurance program’s borrowing limit by another $16 billion and dramatically overhaul the program.
The emergency funding request comes as the Trump administration is responding to natural disasters in 20 states plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Topping the list of priorities is the ongoing response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Irma in Florida, and Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island territories. Wildfires also are burning across several states, including California and Montana.
In a visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, President Trump drew the ire of some of his critics by telling local officials, “You have thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that’s fine.”
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney explained in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday that the administration is spending nearly $200 million daily out of the Disaster Relief Fund overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and asked that Congress move quickly to approve the emergency funding.
Mulvaney also said the National Flood Insurance Program “is not designed to handle catastrophic losses” like the recent hurricanes and is “not fiscally sustainable in its current form.” He proposed a series of reforms backed by conservative lawmakers who have long sought to overhaul the program and resisted calls to raise its borrowing authority.
Among other things, Mulvaney called on Congress to open up the flood insurance market to private insurers by phasing out NFIP policies for new residential construction and commercial properties and said that $16 billion of the program’s existing debt should be canceled on an emergency basis.
Even before Harvey, Irma and Maria, the program owed more than $24 billion to the U.S. treasury, nearing its current $30 billion borrowing cap. Mulvaney said in his letter that the program will run out of money by the end of the month.
Whether GOP leaders will include the NFIP reforms in their emergency legislation is unclear. House Republican leaders especially have been seeking a broader bipartisan plan to reauthorize the program.
When exactly Congress plans to pay up also remained unclear Wednesday. The Senate is taking a week-long recess next week, while the House is scheduled to be off the week after.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in a statement that his panel planned to introduce a bill “as soon as possible” and that the latest emergency request “won’t be all that is needed” to provide relief to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that his chamber “remains committed to doing its part to support relief efforts” but did not say when the Senate might vote.