WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are expected to pass a large aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey, but specifics of the plan and its price tag are unclear as Congress awaits a funding request from the Trump administration.
Rain continued to pound Houston and the Gulf Coast on Monday as President Donald Trump said he expected rapid funding from Congress for a costly recovery. He plans to visit Texas on Tuesday to see storm-hit areas.
“We’re dealing with Congress. As you know it’s going to be a very expensive situation,” he told reporters in the White House.
Historic flooding from Harvey, which came ashore in Texas last week as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, has killed at least seven people in Texas and was expected to drive 30,000 from their homes.
Wall Street analysts estimated insured losses of up to $20 billion, making Harvey one of the costliest storms in history for U.S. insurers.
After past disasters, Congress approved billions of dollars in funds to help with relief and recovery, but in recent years, fiscal conservatives have raised questions.
House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that lawmakers must move to help with the current disaster.
“Republicans must be ready to join Democrats in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said more than 450,000 people were expected to seek disaster assistance because of catastrophic flooding.
“We will help those affected by this terrible disaster. The first step in that process is a formal request for resources from the administration,” said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
A Senate Republican aide said it was too soon to say what was needed. “The committee is monitoring the situation in Texas closely,” said Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for the Republican majority on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
There is only about $3.3 billion in the federal disaster relief fund. Congress approved $62.3 billion in aid after Hurricane Katrina devastated Gulf Coast communities and flooded New Orleans in 2005.
Congress returns next week from vacation.
‘HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS APPROPRIATELY’
Texas Republican Representative Pete Sessions told MSNBC he expected lawmakers to back any aid package as long as it was not bloated beyond the needed storm response. “Congress is going to have to deal with this appropriately as we’ve had to do over the last 20 years of big floods and tornadoes,” he said.
Some conservatives have balked in the past at authorizing money for disaster relief.
In 2005, then-Indiana Republican Representative Mike Pence, now vice president, called on the floor of the House for “offsetting” money spent on Katrina relief with cutbacks elsewhere.
Almost the entire Texas delegation opposed the $50.5 billion aid package that Congress approved three months after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in 2012. Opponents argued that the Sandy package funded things unrelated to the disaster.
“The Sandy relief bill had more pork in it than a bacon factory,” said Representative Blake Farenthold, a Republican who represents Corpus Christi, which was hit hard by Harvey.
“I’m not opposed to disaster relief, I never have been,” Farenthold said on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Co.
A multibillion-dollar bill for federal flood insurance coverage may also land on Congress’ desk soon from Texas.
The Insurance Information Institute, an industry research group, has said claims from Harvey under the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, could equal those of Katrina, which resulted in more than $15 billion in flood claims.
Harvey-related flood claims will have to be covered by U.S. taxpayers because the NFIP, the only source of flood insurance for most Americans, is already broke.
Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney