The White House estimates that Hurricane Irene caused $1.5 billion in damages, virtually assuring that they will have to ask for a disaster relief supplemental sometime in the next couple months.
The preliminary estimate, released by White House budget director Jacob Lew, is on top of $5.2 billion needed for other recent disasters, including tornadoes that leveled much of Joplin, Mo. Lew said the $1.5 billion should last through next year.
The Obama administration has said last month’s debt ceiling deal with Congress allows the government to pay for disaster spending by borrowing, which increases federal deficits. That is a long-time practice for financing emergencies. The House’s No. 2 Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, has said disaster spending should be offset by cutting other parts of the budget.
Jack Lew announced the damage estimate in a blog post. He explained that the debt limit deal allows for disaster relief funding without an offset, suggesting that they plan to ask for the funding in that manner. So we can expect a $6.7 billion disaster relief bill, covering the previous disaster needs and Hurricane Irene damage, soon.
The vast majority of that $1.5 billion will begin to be paid in the upcoming fiscal year that starts in less than four weeks. Congress is back in session tomorrow, and we will work with them to fund both the $5.2 billion needed for non-Hurricane Irene known disaster needs and the roughly $1.5 billion that we now estimate is needed for Irene through FY 2012 (as was the case with prior disasters, there also could be costs for future fiscal years).
With regard to the next couple of weeks, we are watching the situation closely. If additional funds are needed to get us through the closing days of this fiscal year, we will make sure that whatever resources are needed are provided. Guiding us is the steadfast commitment to make funds available in the amount and at the time they are needed. If resources are required for the last four weeks of FY 2011, we will explore all options to get it done.
So this would be needed starting in October, at the start of the next fiscal year.
The President made pretty clear over the weekend in New Jersey that the federal government must provide the necessary resources to fund disaster relief. Clearly the White House is taking a stand on getting that money into the system without offsets. It was assumed that, because of the agreement in the debt limit deal on a level of spending for the next two fiscal years, the FY2012 budget would be a mere formality. This disaster funding need has thrown a $6.7 billion monkey wrench into those hopes.
The White House appears to be on solid ground in the court of public opinion on asking for emergency disaster relief funding. But public opinion is just not likely to move Republicans who want offsets. To those longing for the halcyon days of hostage-taking situations from earlier in the year, you’re in luck! This is the next one.