A strong storm with straight-line winds, known as a derecho, damaged Rock Creek State Park near Kellogg. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources)
WASHINGTON — The White House is urging Congress to approve at least $24 billion — and likely more — for disaster relief costs, saying that the aid should be included in a short-term spending bill expected this month.
That tally includes $14 billion for recovery costs related to extreme weather events including hurricanes, floods and wildfires during the last 18 months, prior to the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, New Jersey and elsewhere.
Iowa’s congressional delegation has been pushing for more federal aid for victims of the derecho storm in August 2020. The hurricane-like winds caused $11 billion in damage across the Midwest and destroyed 850,000 acres of crops.
Biden administration officials said they also expect at least another $10 billion will be needed to address the destruction from Ida, and that they will work with Congress on a firmer cost after further damage assessments are completed.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., quickly embraced the request as “just what is needed to help hard-hit communities all across the country.” He said in a statement Tuesday that Senate Democrats will work with Republicans to approve the emergency relief by the end of September.
“Given the scale and scope of these natural disasters, everyone must work together to get Americans the help they desperately need,” Schumer said.
The Biden administration’s emergency funding request to Congress came as President Joe Biden traveled to New York and New Jersey on Tuesday to survey damage from Hurricane Ida’s intense rain and flooding. The number of fatalities linked to that storm has risen to at least 60, according to Axios, including 27 in New Jersey.
During his stop in the New York City borough of Queens, Biden referenced the wildfire damage in California and throughout the West Coast, saying he will be heading there in the coming days.
Congress appears unlikely to finish its work passing full-year spending bills before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. That means lawmakers, who return to Washington later this month, would need to push through a short-term continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown.
In a blog post detailing the request to Congress, Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote that the Biden administration “is committed to delivering the funding necessary to help impacted states and tribes recover from recent extreme weather events and natural disasters.”
One in three Americans live in counties hit by disasters
Young wrote that includes help in recovering from not just the recent extreme events, but also addressing unmet needs from earlier disasters, including Hurricanes Laura and Delta, which devastated Louisiana last year.
During a briefing call with reporters, administration officials said one in three Americans live in counties struck by a weather-related disaster during the last three months.
“Just over the summer, 100 million Americans have been impacted by extreme weather, obviously in the Northeast, out West with wildfires, and then in the Gulf Coast,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing Tuesday.
Psaki reiterated that Biden has approved major disaster declarations to aid emergency repairs in New York and New Jersey. She also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded approximately $170 million in individual assistance to more than 159,000 disaster survivors from Ida, and the Small Business Administration has distributed $4.7 million in loans in Louisiana.
Estimates were not yet available on how the disaster relief dollars requested by the Biden administration would be allocated to the states and local communities affected by wildfires and extreme storms.
The relief money would be allocated through SBA disaster loans, community development block grants, emergency highway relief, and the FEMA’s disaster relief fund.
The administration’s request to Congress also includes $6.4 billion for processing and resettling Afghans evacuated as U.S. military forces exited that country.
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