WASHINGTON — The House is on track to backing President Donald Trump's request for billions more in disaster aid, $16 billion to pay flood insurance claims and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.
Thursday's hurricane aid package totals $36.5 billion and sticks close to a White House request, ignoring — for now — huge demands from the powerful Florida and Texas delegations, who together pressed for some $40 billion more.
Yet President Donald Trump criticized the U.S. territory early Thursday, saying it shouldn't expect federal help to last “forever.” In a series of tweets, the president said “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes” and blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and “a total lack of accountability.”
He tweeted: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
A steady series of disasters — massive flooding in Texas, hurricane damage in Florida, and a humanitarian crisis in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico — could be putting 2017 on track to rival Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of disasters ever. Katrina required about $110 billion in emergency appropriations.
The bill combines $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency with $16 billion to permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance program pay an influx of Harvey-related claims. Another $577 million would pay for western firefighting efforts.
Up to $5 billion of the FEMA money could be used to help local governments — especially Puerto Rico's central government and the island's local governments — remain functional as they endure unsustainable cash shortfalls in the aftermath of Maria, which has choked off revenues and strained resources.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is traveling to Puerto Rico on Friday. He has promised that the U.S. territory will get what it needs, but most of the island remains without power, and many of its more isolated residents still lack drinking water.
“It's not easy when you're used to live in an American way of life, and then somebody tell you that you're going to be without power for six or eight months,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico as a non-voting member of Congress. “It's not easy when you are continue to suffer — see the suffering of the people without food, without water, and actually living in a humanitarian crisis.”
Republicans controlling Congress, who had protracted debates last year on modest requests by former President Barack Obama to combat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system, are moving quickly to take care of this year's alarming series of disasters, quickly passing a $15.3 billion measure last month and signaling that another installment is coming next month.
Several lawmakers from hurricane-hit states said a third interim aid request is anticipated shortly — with a final, huge hurricane recovery and rebuilding package likely to be acted upon by the end of the year.
“Another tranche is coming in maybe two, three weeks,” said Rep. Pete Olsen, R-Texas. Olsen said several members of the Texas delegation won assurances from Ryan that more money is on its way.
“I'm counting on the next supplemental adding the funds for Texas,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.
Democrats embraced the package which was before lawmakers Thursday. It includes an estimated $1 billion added by the House Appropriations Committee to address California's ongoing wildfire disasters, a priority for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
- Poll finds many Harvey victims saying they still need help
- Senate presses ahead on $36.5B disaster relief package
- Winds churn California wildfires, keep aircraft from helping
- El Centro prepares for influx of Puerto Rican transplants
- From Puerto Rico to Lorain: Students learn to adapt
- Up in smoke: Wildfires scorch California pot crop at harvest
- Californians under siege try to fight fires, find loved ones
- Jordan votes against disaster aid package
- In Harvey-hit county, some in GOP newly confront the climate
- Californians brace for emotional toll from wildfires
- As crews gain ground, California fire victims return home
- Winds whip new terror into deadly California wildfires
- Emergency alerts get scrutiny after deadly wildfires
- California wildfires reduces years-long dreams to embers
- A cigarette, a car backfire: Small sparks can make big fires
- Deadly California wildfires force thousands to evacuate
- The US West had a snowy winter, so why the fiery summer?
- Puerto Ricans leave for U.S. mainland as storm woes linger
- Hurricane mauled Puerto Rico's renowned Monkey Island research center
- US hiring falls 33,000 after hurricanes slam Texas, Florida
- Trump heads to Puerto Rico to survey hurricane damage
- Farmers say Maria wrecked bright spot of Puerto Rico economy
- Vigil in Lorain shows support for natural disasters' victims
- Now even money is running out in storm-hit Puerto Rico
- Water and some food scarce as Puerto Rico emerges from storm
- Lorain intensifies efforts to help Puerto Rican hurricane victims
- Puerto Rico faces weeks without electricity after Maria
- A stunned Puerto Rico seeks to rebuild after Hurricane Maria
- US home sales off 1.7 percent, hurt by Harvey and low supply
- Immigrant hurricane victims turn to churches amid fear
- Hurricane Maria aims at Puerto Rico after slamming Dominica
- Hurricane Maria smashes Dominica, now menaces other islands
- Hurricane Maria nearing already battered Caribbean islands
- Vulnerable residents a concern in Hurricane Irma aftermath
- Trump heads to southwestern Florida to survey Irma recovery
- Governor: 'Work to do' for Florida to recover after Irma
- Irma pushes Florida's poor closer to the edge of ruin
- Battered Florida tries to assess scope of Irma's destruction
- Massive but weakened Irma lashes Florida with wind, rain
- More aid, evacuations in Caribbean islands battered by Irma
- Is Hurricane Irma the 'Big One' Florida has dreaded?
- Hurricane Irma slams Turks and Caicos on path to Florida
- Hurricane Irma brings death, destruction to the Caribbean
- Powerful Hurricane Irma hits first Caribbean islands
- HURRICANE HARVEY: 1994 Midview graduate's home, work under water
- HURRICANE HARVEY: Elyria native's son, 17, stranded for 3 days
- UPDATE: Irma strengthens to Category 5 hurricane, bears down toward U.S.
- HURRICANE HARVEY: 1984 Midview grad helps feed Coast Guard
- Houston susceptible to floods despite controls; population boom doesn't help
- New Orleans' Katrina challenges may hold lessons for Houston
- Authorities brace for wave of hurricane-related fraud
- North Ridgeville native helped monitor Hurricane Harvey
- Houston-area floodwaters recede but dangers still loom
- Harvey tests political opposites in Texas' Abbott, Turner
- Posts, tweets spread widely as the Harvey missing are sought
- Amid Harvey floods, Houston chief worries 'how many bodies?'
- Trump's turn to face tricky politics of natural disasters