FEMA Is Nearly Out of Cash, Just as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Strike

Thursday, September 7, 2017
By Paul Martin

SEP 7 2017

WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is rapidly running out of disaster relief funding as Hurricane Irma slams Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and heads toward Florida.

The federal response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas has quickly depleted FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which dropped by $2.14 billion last Thursday to $1.01 billion as of Tuesday. The figures from FEMA were first reported by Bloomberg and later confirmed by NBC News.

“FEMA is scheduled to run out of money by Friday, Sept. 8, just two days before Hurricane Irma is expected to hit Florida,” Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio said in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, the current disaster relief package Congress is considering for Hurricane Harvey doesn’t account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur as a result of Hurricane Irma.”

The House overwhelmingly passed a $7.85-billion aid bill for Harvey victims on Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to take up the legislation quickly. But Florida legislators said that still won’t be enough to cover the potential devastation of Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.

The administration is already anticipating the need for more hurricane relief funding: The White House has requested an additional $6.7 billion in Harvey funding as part of the spending bill that Congress must pass by the end of September to keep the government open. And that figure could increase if there’s considerable devastation from Irma. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Sunday that the Harvey recovery could ultimately cost as much as $180 billion.

Asked on Thursday whether FEMA was being overextended, President Donald Trump praised the agency’s “great bravery” in managing the response to the two hurricanes.

“I don’t think anybody has done anything like they’ve done at FEMA, and they have done a very good job,” he told reporters.

William Booher, FEMA’s director of public affairs, said in an email that it was “too early to speculate on the full impacts and costs of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.” He stressed that FEMA was already deploying resources to prepare for and respond to Irma, activating more than 700 federal personnel and sending FEMA staff to assist on the ground in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida.

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