Federal disaster relief tab continues to increase with damage from Hurricane Irma

Federal disaster relief tab continues to increase with damage from Hurricane Irma 

Posted: 9:51 pm Sunday, September 10th, 2017

By Jamie Dupree

The end of the nation’s twelve year streak when it comes to avoiding major hurricane strikes on the U.S. coastline is already having budget implications for the federal government, with the tab only expected to grow as Hurricane Irma moves away from the state of Florida, as state, local and federal officials will begin to start figuring out how much was damaged, repeating the process from Hurricane Harvey just two weeks ago.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump approved an initial federal emergency declaration for nine counties in Florida, opening the spigot of disaster funding for damage related to Irma.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the White House announced.

The office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that the “Major Disaster Declaration” from Mr. Trump authorized:

+ 100 percent federal reimbursement for evacuation costs, the costs associated with Emergency Operation Centers. After one month, the feds will pick up 75 percent of the tab, for both local and state expenses.

+ The feds pay 75 percent of the cost for debris removal by individual counties.

“As Hurricane Irma moves through Florida, Governor Scott will work with President Trump and FEMA to approve more funding to additional communities affected by the storm,” the Governor’s office stated.

Last Friday, the Congress gave final approval to $15.3 billion in emergency disaster relief aid for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But lawmakers fully acknowledged that they were going to need to approve even more in the weeks ahead.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said he had been told last Thursday by the head of FEMA that an extra $7.4 billion in disaster funds for that agency would run out within weeks.

“His response was that these funds will last until the end of this month,” Hastings said.

“As I said before, our committee is ready and willing to address any additional funding needs that may arise as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and other major disasters,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (D-NJ), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which will have to deal with additional disaster aid requests.

In one example of how Harvey and Irma have already impacted the federal budget, the New York Times reported on Sunday that the Trump Administration had been considering a plan from a special commission on opioid problems in the U.S., to use money normally in the FEMA budget to fund treatment options in the states.

But, with the billions needed in federal disaster aid, that plan from Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to tap that FEMA money seemed unlikely to occur.

Another change came in a massive spending bill that’s expected to get a final vote in the House this week, which did away with a GOP plan to shift $857 million in unused FEMA disaster funds to help build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Instead of taking money from FEMA, House Republicans decided to move $857 million from something known as the “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program Account.”

Already, the Governor of Texas has said he thinks his state will need over $100 billion in disaster aid from the feds. Irma will only add to those totals in Florida.

And unfortunately, there could be more on the way.

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