Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan promised Wednesday, after a tour of the damage inflicted across hundreds of miles by Hurricane Irma, that Congress would once again replenish strained disaster recovery coffers in order to help Floridians bounce back from the storm.
Ryan, who flew with the U.S. Coast Guard over Jacksonville and the Florida Keys, called the scene along the Overseas Highway “astounding.” He acknowledged the need to release more money to help pay for a storm sandwiched between Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast and Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico, but stayed away from any specific dollar amounts.
“What matters most is the Disaster [Relief] Fund at FEMA is full and it can respond. That’s why just a few weeks ago we made sure that the FEMA funds were there because the spend-down rate was accelerating very quickly as opposed to other hurricanes,” Ryan, R-Wisc., said during a press conference at the U.S. Coast Guard air station at Opa-locka Executive Airport. “I’m sure that we’re going to do another, what we call supplemental, sometime in October once we have a full assessment of what is needed.”
FEMA’s relief fund had $6.3 billion unallocated as of Wednesday morning, according to Bloomberg Government. The fund will receive another $6.7 billion in 10 days as part of a $15 billion Hurricane Harvey relief bill passed this month by Congress as part of a deal between President Donald Trump and Democrats that included raising the nation’s debt ceiling and a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December.
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But given the amount of damage already inflicted this hurricane season, those dollars aren’t expected to last long.
“We know the agency is going to get an infusion of funds here at the end of the month, but those funds will only last a few weeks,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. “So we need a robust funding package for FEMA so we can help Florida, Texas, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other parts of our country recover from natural disasters.”
Early estimates by CoreLogic have pegged the recovery costs of Irma alone between $42.5 billion and $65 billion. The governor of Texas has projected the cost of Harvey to his state around $150 billion.