White House seeks $44 billion hurricane aid, far short of requests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday said it had asked Congress for $44 billion in supplemental disaster assistance to help those hurt by recent hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, far short of the aid some officials have called for.

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The White House said it expected to seek additional funds after a fuller analysis. U.S. Representative Frank Pallone and Senator Ron Wyden, both Democrats, called the request “a dereliction of duty by the Trump administration to American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that need our help.

“This woefully inadequate funding request does not provide the necessary resources required to properly respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” they added.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello asked for $94.4 billion to rebuild the U.S. territory’s infrastructure. Texas was seeking $61 billion and Florida had asked for $27 billion.

The $44 billion would be in addition to about $50 billion Congress previously approved for hurricane and disaster relief.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan that the $44 billion “does not represent the final request” for assistance for the victims, especially in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where needs were still being assessed.

“At this time, the administration is requesting an additional fiscal year 2018 funding in the amount of $44 billion and the necessary authorities to address ongoing recovery efforts,” Mulvaney said in the letter.

The administration also wants Congress to approve new tax relief for victims of recent California wildfires, which mirror what Congress awarded recently to hurricane victims. The White House also wants to make houses of worship eligible for disaster relief funding.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, on Thursday dismissed the latest request as “wholly inadequate” for his state.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended the request.

“Up until this point Texas has not put any state dollars into this process. We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment and that was completed and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today,” she said.

She said the new request “primarily addresses Texas and Florida Those storms took place ahead of Puerto Rico. The assessment for Puerto Rico hasn’t been completed yet. Once that’s done, we fully anticipate that there will be additional requests at that time.”

Additional reporting by David Alexander, Jeff Mason; Makini Brice; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown