White House’s $44B Disaster Aid Bill Sparks Bipartisan Outrage

(CN) — The White House sent a $44 billion disaster aid request to Congress on Friday, its third request since as many hurricanes tore through U.S. states and territories in a uniquely stormy summer.

The package represents far less than the amount that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello estimated would be necessary to meet their needs.

“This request does not come close to what local officials say is needed,” New York Rep. Nita Lowey, a top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told the Associated Press.

As of Friday, Puerto Rico’s government reported that only 44 percent of the territory has power and 81 percent has potable water. Phone serve has been restored for 74 percent of the island, but only 62 percent of cell sites remain operational.

President Donald Trump’s latest request does not account for the money needed to rebuild Puerto Rico’s housing stock and electric grid, which is expected to come in a separate package from the $100 billion from the three requests so far.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that additional funding will be requested following an assessment of Puerto Rico’s needs, CBS reported.

Sen. Bernie Sanders meanwhile slammed the current aid request as “totally inadequate.”

“While the president wants to provide the very richest people in this country hundreds of billions in tax relief, he is largely ignoring the needs of the communities that were devastated by the recent hurricanes,” Sanders said in a statement. “Two months after Hurricane Maria, the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still suffering without electricity, clean water and other basic necessities. That is not acceptable.”

The registered Independent from Vermont vowed that he would push for “comprehensive legislation” later this month to address the short- and long-term needs of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria began ravaging the Gulf Coast and Caribbean in late August, Trump has faced blistering criticism for downplaying climate change’s role in the unprecedented storms and then leaving U.S. states and territories ill-equipped to recuperate from the devastation.

Outrage has been bipartisan. Gov. Abbott — a Republican from Texas who requested $61 billion in aid for flood control and navigation projects — called the latest package “wholly inadequate” for Houston to recover from Harvey’s wrath.

Gov. Rossello requested $94 billion, including $18 billion for the island’s power grid and $31 billion for its housing.

Florida’s congressional delegation has asked for $27 billion.

Religious groups, on the other hand, have been cheering one change that would eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s policy banning aid to faith-based organizations.

Three Texas churches sued the agency last month, blasting the policy in the complaint as unconstitutional religious discrimination.

The Becket Fund, a Washington-based religious advocacy group, applauded the change.

“It’s about time,” Becket’s counsel Daniel Blomberg said in a statement. “Hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires don’t discriminate in who they harm — FEMA never should have discriminated in who it helped.”

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