Texas lawmakers request $18.7 billion more for Harvey relief

An entrance ramp to Interstate 10 became a boat ramp as volunteers brought their boats to help when Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain in Houston.
An entrance ramp to Interstate 10 became a boat ramp as volunteers brought their boats to help when Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain in Houston.

Texas lawmakers requested $18.7 billion in additional federal funds Thursday to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

This second wave of relief funding would bring the federal government’s total Harvey recovery investment to nearly $34 billion, if approved by Congress and signed by the president. The House could act on the request as early as next week, when it votes on a supplemental funding bill.

Texas’s two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, along with members of Congress from both parties and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, delivered the request in a letter Thursday to House and Senate appropriators.

Their proposal would direct $10 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers for rebuilding projects that are ready for construction. Another $7 billion would go to low-income housing rebuilding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Recovery program.

Damaged schools would get $800 million for repairs, and $150 million would go toward transportation infrastructure repairs. The Small Business Administration, which got an infusion of cash in the last supplemental package, would get another $450 million.

Texas Republicans who railed against what they saw as wasteful spending in relief efforts for other storms, like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, have pushed for incremental relief bills like this one to avoid asking for funding for projects that may not ever happen.

“We’ve counseled the state [to] make sure that our requests are well-documented, and that these projects that we’re asking to be funded are indeed ready to go and just need the resources,” Cornyn told the Star-Telegram on Thursday.

Cornyn, the second-most-powerful Senate Republican, said he had not spoken with the White House before making the request. He predicted another round of funding would come in December, when Congress takes up an omnibus appropriations bill.

The letter comes a day after the White House requested $29 billion from Congress to help with hurricane relief and flood insurance claims. Some House Republicans, including the leader of the conservative House Study Committee, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, said they would demand spending offsets to pay for that request.

The last Harvey relief bill passed the House 316-90. An initial version of the bill, which only provided Harvey relief, passed with the support of all but three members.

The bill then went to the Senate, where the aid was nearly doubled, from $7.85 billion to $15.25 billion, and it was paired with an increase to the debt ceiling. It passed the Senate 80-17.

When it went back to the House, some Republican members rejected the debt ceiling increase, including four Texans.

Cornyn and Cruz both said they expect the second round to pass easily.

“I am confident that we will continue to see strong bipartisan support for providing the relief that Texans need in the wake of Harvey and that Floridians need in the wake of Irma and that Puerto Ricans need in the wake of Maria,” Cruz said Thursday.

Cruz, who lives in Houston and has made repeated trips to survey the damage, estimated Harvey would be the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.”

Cruz and Cornyn teamed up with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio last week on a hurricane tax relief package allowing hurricane victims to deduct casualty damages from their taxes. That legislation passed both chambers and was signed into law last Friday.

Thursday’s letter was signed by all but three members of the Texas delegation. Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Joe Barton and Kevin Brady did not sign the letter.

Barton and Hensarling were two of the four Texans who voted against first Harvey relief package.

Barton, along with South Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, leads Congress’s task force dedicated to Harvey relief.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch