U.S. News

Trump administration asks Congress for $29 billion in hurricane relief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Wednesday asked U.S. lawmakers to approve $29 billion in disaster relief funds to assist victims of recent hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks past hurricane wreckage as he participates in a walking tour with first lady Melania Trump, Guaynabo Mayor Angel Perez Otero (2nd R) and Acting FEMA Administrator Brock Long (far R) as well as Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (L) and his wife Beatriz Areizeaga in areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The aid request includes $12.8 billion in new funds to help storm victims and $16 billion to defray debt in the federal government’s flood insurance program. The White House said the program would reach the limit of its borrowing authority late this month. The administration also wants another $576.5 million to pay for fighting wildfires in the western United States.

Separately, the White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, asked federal agencies in a memorandum Wednesday to estimate by Oct. 25 how much additional funding they will need for “long-term disaster recovery.” He said agencies should only identify costs related directly to recent storms to “support recovery and rebuilding from these recent hurricanes.”

The White House said the disaster funding will ensure it has enough funds to provide support through Dec. 31 and earlier this week had about $10 billion on hand. The White House told Congress it is committing $200 million a day for recovery efforts.

The White House said it forecasts the National Flood Insurance Program, which insures about 5 million homes and businesses, will have hurricane losses of about $16 billion and proposed cancelling $16 billion in debt for the program. The administration proposed a series of reforms to the program, including phasing out issuing policies for newly constructed homes and for commercial customers after 2021.

The administration also wants to establish means testing to ensure the insurance remains affordable for low-income policyholders and to discontinue coverage for homes that are hit by repeated storms.

Congressional leaders expressed support for the plan, but flood insurance program reforms will face some opposition.

Congress approved a $15.25 billion aid package last month. House Speaker Paul Ryan said “more is clearly needed, and this funding request will help meet that need.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also praised the request.

Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, praised the new request but added “far more will be necessary.”

She said Congress should add additional funding “for flexible Community Development Block Grants; rebuilding coastlines, roads, transit systems, airports, ports, and other infrastructure; small business loans; and repairs to military installations and other federal facilities damaged in the storms.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis