Gov. Greg Abbott and several fellow Texas Republicans in Congress on Friday blasted a $44 billion disaster relief proposal by the White House, calling it inadequate to cover the destruction left by Hurricane Harvey.
The White House Office of Management and Budget asked Congress on Friday to sign off on the additional money for states and U.S. territories battered by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as well as the California wildfires. Congress had already approved $51.8 billion in disaster relief.
Calling Friday’s proposal insufficient compared with the federal money East Coast states had received in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Abbott said Texas needs the money to help protect against future hurricanes, among other things.
Abbott, who traveled to Washington last month to ask for $61 billion for Texas, has projected that the Texas rebuilding effort might ultimately require as much as $180 billion in federal money.
“What was offered up … is completely inadequate,” Abbott said during a news conference from the Texas Capitol. “You’ll see that this falls short of the response to … Superstorm Sandy, which was half the storm of Hurricane Harvey.”
Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, which was ravaged by Hurricane Irma, also said he was dissatisfied with the White House’s request.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the proposal Friday, saying that Texas needs to “step up” with its own money.
“I don’t think $44 billion is a low amount, and my guess is if you asked any average citizen across this country they wouldn’t feel that it’s low either,” she said.
As of Friday, state agencies had spent $437 million on Harvey-related disaster recovery, according to the Texas Department of Emergency Management. The state has spent an additional $1.3 billion in federal funds, according to the Texas Legislative Budget Board.
The state figure is expected to grow with the Texas Education Agency already estimating it will spend about $400 million next year to avoid penalizing storm-struck school districts that otherwise would lose funding because of declines in student enrollment.
“There is a role at all levels of government,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who joined Abbott at Friday’s news conference. “Local officials like the mayor and judge in Houston, I think, did an extraordinary job. Gov. Abbott has stepped up to the challenge and been a great leader. It’s really time for the federal government to live up to its responsibility.”
Other members of the Texas congressional delegation echoed similar concerns, including Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Corpus Christi whose district stretches to Bastrop and Caldwell counties. “The people of Texas need and deserve federal assistance for long-term flood mitigation, which this request does not sufficiently provide,” said a statement signed by seven Texas Republican members of Congress.
Cornyn said Friday he was going to talk to the director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. He said the state wasn’t asking for extravagance.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also promised to work “with the entire Texas delegation to ensure our great state has the resources it needs.”
The White House’s proposal comes as Congress faces a Dec. 8 deadline to wrap up major budget decisions, including funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and a $1.5 trillion tax-cut plan that has become a priority for Republicans.
The $44 billion request comprises $25.2 billion in disaster relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration; $1 billion for agricultural assistance; $1.2 billion for schools; $4.6 billion to repair and replace federal property; and $12 billion for flood mitigation projects.
Also Friday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $5 billion to Texas to repair damaged homes, businesses and infrastructure. The money comes from the $51.8 billion that had been previously approved by the federal government.
About 230,000 homes in Texas were damaged by Harvey, 65,000 of which suffered serious damage that is not covered by insurance, according to the housing department. More than 4,000 businesses also saw serious damage and aren’t covered by insurance.