Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico less than a week ago, but the Federal Emergency Management Administration has more relief funding available than it did after Hurricane Harvey.
After Harvey hit the Houston area, Congress passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief bill when President Donald Trump struck a deal with Democrats. FEMA was only a few days away from running out of money.
Nearly half of the hurricane relief package that passed in early September, $7.4 billion, is going to FEMA, allowing it to stay afloat while it responds to the crisis in Puerto Rico and cleanup in Florida after Hurricane Irma. A FEMA spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the agency has just over $5 billion in uncommitted disaster relief money as of Monday morning.
That money won’t last long. Congress will likely need to pass additional funding bills to manage long-term recovery efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico before the end of the year.
“Congress has done its job,” the staffer said.
But Congress only supplies the money. It’s up to local and federal agencies to effectively manage it after a hurricane.
On Monday, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called on the U.S. military to provide more search-and-rescue teams to Puerto Rico. Nelson said last week it will cost much more than $15 billion to manage relief efforts in Florida and Puerto Rico.
The White House said Monday that it’s doing everything possible to manage the short-term response in Puerto Rico. Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA administrator Brock Long arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday to assess the situation and will inform the White House about what is needed most.
But short-term efforts like search-and-rescue missions or restoring Puerto Rico’s power grid are different than long-term projects like hardening the power grid to ensure it can withstand a major hurricane. The FEMA money focuses on the short-term effort, but months from now Republicans and Democrats will inevitably debate the merits of long-term relief for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Texas has 38 votes in Congress and Florida has 29, and if they stick together the majority-Republican states can be an important voting bloc in a contentious negotiation.
In contrast, Puerto Rico has one non-voting delegate.
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