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Congress to Vote on Harvey Relief Bill on Wednesday

by Countable | 9.5.17

What’s the story?

Congress is back in session, and one of their first orders of business is Hurricane Harvey relief. The overall cost of the relief effort is expected to dwarf all previous disaster funding, but Congress is only expected to vote on an initial funding bill this week to restock the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) coffers.

Why does it matter?

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D) estimated to the Washington Post recovery efforts could cost well over $200 billion dollars, well beyond the $120 billion spent on Hurricane Katrina recovery:

"Texas is a big state so the swath that has been damaged meets probably the scale of Sandy. Houston is a very congested city – it’s a very large place geographically, along with the county. We have expansive housing stock, we may have lost 30,000 to 40,000 homes, or at least they’ve been damaged."

In addition to housing stock there will be vehicle losses or damage, the costs to rebuild hospitals, nursing homes, shopping centers, and many Texas residents do not have flood insurance.

So far, the package being prepped for Congress to debate tomorrow is approximately $7.85 billion, according to HuffPo. The package includes $7.4 billion earmarked for FEMA’s disaster relief fund. The money would replenish FEMA coffers so it can continue Harvey efforts as well as address other disasters. The other $450 million would go to the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program, which helps individuals and small businesses begin rebuilding their homes.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated over the weekend that Congress would have to vote on an increase to the debt ceiling along with Harvey funding. The government was on track to run out of money to cover its debts as of September 29, but Mnuchin says that the unexpected addition of funding for Harvey relief may shorten that timeline:

Tying Harvey relief funding to raising the debt ceiling, whether in this initial package or in a larger funding bill before the end of September, is likely to agitate far-right Republicans who have opposed raising the debt limit. The expectation, however, is that tying the debt limit vote to Harvey relief funding will make it more likely to pass.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress approved a $52 billion relief bill within a week. By 2012, growing contention around government spending and the debt ceiling slowed the approval of relief funding after Hurricane Sandy. It took Congress two months to approve an initial relief bill of $50 billion for Hurricane Sandy.

Lawmakers may try to strike a balance this time between meeting funding needs efficiently and controlling spending. GOP lawmakers told Politico that they are considering approving multiple, smaller bills targeted to specific needs rather than a single, large package. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters last week:

"My view has always been that multiple bills are fine, but you’re better off to pass multiple bills knowing what the costs are [rather] than some number that no one can really justify."

What do you think?

Do you think Congress should tie relief funding to raising the debt limit? Should they approve a single, large package like with previous disasters, or multiple, smaller packages? Would Congressional partisanship and gridlock make one big package or many smaller packages more successful?

Tell us in the comments, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: US Dept of Defense / Creative Commons)

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Written by Countable

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