Trump Asks Congress For $7.85 Billion In Harvey Relief Ahead Of 2nd Trip To Region

By Amy Held

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey near Beaumont, Texas, on Friday.

David J. Phillip/AP

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David J. Phillip/AP

The Trump administration is asking Congress for nearly $8 billion in Harvey aid, as the search and rescue phase is slowly giving way to recovery, more than a week after the storm slammed into southeast Texas.

President Trump makes his second trip to the region Saturday, with a visit to a Houston relief center, where he is set to speak with storm victims. Later Saturday, he is scheduled to fly to meet with emergency responders in Lake Charles, La., including the volunteer Cajun Navy.

Request for federal funds

The trip comes one day after the White House asked Congress to appropriate “$7.85 billion in Federal resources for response and initial recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey.”

A view of a controlled release of water from the Barker Reservoir that is causing flooding on the west side of Houston on Friday.

Scott Dalton for NPR

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Scott Dalton for NPR

The letter, sent by White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, said Harvey has already damaged more than 100,000 homes, left 43,500 people in shelters and resulted in nearly a half million households registering with FEMA for help with housing and home repairs.

The bulk of the funding would go toward FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund. About $450 million is slated for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program to help small businesses and homeowners get back on their feet.

Departing for Texas and Louisiana with @FLOTUS Melania right now @JBA_NAFW. We will see you soon. America is with you! pic.twitter.com/z3bHVdJVPr

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 2, 2017

As The Washington Post eports:

“The request is $2 billion more than White House and congressional leaders were expecting to seek as of Thursday. Government officials were continually reevaluating the damage and how much money was needed for the short-term response.”

But the near $8 billion request is essentially just a down payment on a tab that will very likely be billions more.

The letter also calls on Congress to raise the debt ceiling quickly, warning that “the debt ceiling could, unless modified, affect critical response and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that if the debt ceiling is not raised, the government only has until the end of the month before running out of cash.

A view of flooding on the west side of Houston, Texas on Friday.

Scott Dalton for NPR

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Scott Dalton for NPR

In response to the letter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The Senate stands ready to act quickly to provide this much-needed assistance to those impacted communities, and support first responders and volunteers.”

But, as is often the case in Washington, a funding fight may be inevitable. Another complicating factor is the National Flood Insurance Program, which many storm-ravaged residents are relying on, is set to expire Sept. 30, unless Congress acts.

Some areas still ‘deadly dangerous’

As the rain has subsided and the focus has moved from rescue to rebuilding, chemical plant fires, lack of drinking water and still-swollen waterways mean many residents are still focused on simply surviving.

The region is grappling with areas that are “deadly dangerous,” according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

National Guard vehicles drive down a flooded street in Wharton, Texas, on Friday.

Scott Dalton for NPR

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Scott Dalton for NPR

Meantime, memorial and funeral services have already begun for some of Harvey’s known 42 victims. That number could still rise as floodwaters recede and reveal Harvey’s true toll.

Beaumont struggles

Beaumont, Texas, is still in “crisis mode,” reports NPR’s Debbie Elliott. While the Neches River is expected to crest Saturday, the main water pump on the river has been knocked out of commission, leaving the city without clean water.

“It is about seven feet above the record,” Abbott said Friday of the Neches River. “This flooding poses an ongoing threat to Beaumont and the surrounding area.”

North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann told Weekend Edition‘s Scott Simon, “I saw cars and trucks backed up on Highway 20 for miles, people just fleeing their homes, trying to get out of Beaumont and some of these surrounding towns.”

“My family’s been in this area for more than a hundred years, and this never flooded,” Beaumont-area Nikki Stanner told Mann. “This time it did. It’s a mess and it stinks.”

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Source:: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/02/548100168/trump-asks-congress-for-7-85-billion-in-harvey-relief-ahead-of-second-trip-to-re?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=storiesfromnpr