Trump administration seeking $7.85 billion ‘down payment’ on disaster funding

Eager to demonstrate leadership amid the worst natural disaster of his tenure, President Donald Trump and First Lady fly to flood-ravaged Texas on Tuesday, even as the state grips for more catastrophic rain.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday asked Congress for a higher-than-expected $7.85 billion as part of an initial request for funds in response to Hurricane Harvey, with an additional request expected by the end of this month.

The formal request came late Friday in a letter from President Donald Trump’s budget chief to House Speaker Paul Ryan. The initial amount requested for Harvey relief was higher than the $5.95 billion figure administration officials floated earlier in the day.

The bulk of the initial request will go to FEMA, which is rapidly burning through cash as the primary agency handling disaster relief. The remainder of the emergency funding request, about $450 million, will go to the Small Business Administration, which is doling out disaster recovery loans to homes and businesses damaged by the storm.

A vote on the emergency supplemental disaster request has been scheduled for late next week in the House.

The White House also signaled that it plans to request an additional $6.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund as part of an anticipated stopgap spending measure to fund the government before it runs out of money at the end of September.

The Trump administration is expected to make subsequent funding requests to help in the multi-billion dollar rebuilding effort that will need to take place in Texas and Louisiana, where tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes due to hurricane damage and flooding brought on by record-breaking rainfall.

As it stands now, the request for the down payment emergency aid is not tied to any proposal to increase the federal debt limit, the sources said.

But a senior administration official said the White House expects the disaster funding and the debt ceiling to be paired in the Senate.

Congress must raise the debt ceiling deadline by the end of September, a deadline that may move up due to the additional disaster funding requests. The debt ceiling deadline is a controversial matter in Congress and some hoped to see the issue tied to disaster funding to ensure the debt ceiling would be raised.

Trump promised swift action to approve disaster relief funding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

State and federal officials have warned that rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey would take years and FEMA Administrator Brock Long said his agency is committed to remaining involved in the area for years to come.

The administration’s initial request comes as swaths of land in Texas remain steeped in several feet of flood waters. Recovery efforts are still underway and tens of thousands of people remain in shelters.