WASHINGTON – A senior senator warned President Donald Trump on Friday not to underestimate Hurricane Harvey or have the same kind of lackluster federal response experienced during Hurricane Katrina.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, advised Trump not to make “the same mistake Pres Bush made w Katrina.”
Trump himself was tweeting Friday morning, including on matters entirely unrelated to the hurricane.
The president did tweet advice for those in the area to “#PlanAhead” of the storm with links to government agencies and a video of him meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.
The federal government has enough money to handle the response to Harvey and other natural disasters – for now. But with Harvey intensifying as it nears landfall along the Texas coast, the calculation could easily change, and congressional appropriators on both sides of the aisle are keeping an eye out just in case.
FEMA said the disaster relief fund balance as of Thursday was $3.3 billion. FEMA spokesman William Booher said FEMA believes the current balance “is sufficient for the immediate lifesaving and life sustaining needs that may emerge as a result of Hurricane Harvey.”
But Booher’s response came after an unnamed FEMA spokesperson had said in an emailed statement late Thursday that, “it would be inappropriate to speculate on possible impacts of Hurricane Harvey” with respect to the current reserve of federal emergency funding.
“At this time we believe the Disaster Relief Fund is sufficient, but will work with Congress to address any supplemental appropriations, if needed,” the spokesperson said in the email. “We continue to coordinate closely with state, local and tribal officials as they prepare for this hurricane.”
FEMA has been encouraging everyone potentially in the path of the tropical system to heed advice of state and local officials, as the storm appears poised to make landfall as a significant hurricane.
In a report to House and Senate appropriators dated Aug. 7, FEMA Administrator Brock Long wrote, “Based on our ongoing review of DRF resources and needs, it is our opinion that absent a new catastrophic disaster, the available funding in the DRF is sufficient to support the needs of disaster survivors and communities through the remainder of the fiscal year.”
The potential for supplemental funding needs to help with disaster relief and recovery is always a possibility, particularly as the government approaches the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It is simply a reality of the calendar that the end of the fiscal year coincides with what is often the peak of hurricane season.
When lawmakers return from August recess, they are already facing deadlines to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government funded into October, but given the expected veracity of Harvey, there is a chance that supplemental disaster aid will need to be added to one those measures.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was meeting with Border Patrol agents on the other end of the state Thursday, said constituents along the coast should heed evacuation warnings and other advice of local officials ahead of impact.
“Don’t mess around. I mean we’re getting predictions of up to 20 inches of rain, and that flooding can be very dangerous and it can be life-threatening, so take it seriously,” Cruz said on WOAI radio. “Our hope is the storm dissipates and doesn’t have a landfall and doesn’t have the extended rain, but we need to be prepared for the worst and do everything we can to minimize the risk to life.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he was speaking with federal, state and local officials as the storm approached the Texas coast, including FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Mayor Joe McComb of Corpus Christi, which could see a direct hit from Harvey, potentially as a Category 3 storm.
“Harvey is expected to be a major hurricane at landfall, bringing life-threatening storm surge, rainfall, and wind hazards to portions of the Texas coast,” the National Hurricane Center said in Friday morning guidance. “Preparations to protect life and property should be completed this morning, as tropical-storm-force winds will first arrive in the hurricane and storm surge warning areas later today.”
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