Trump administration asks Congress for nearly $40 billion in hurricane relief

Donald Trump, with First Lady Melania Trump and local officials, stops to speak with reporters outside a hurricane relief distribution centre in Puerto Rico. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Trump administration on Wednesday (Oct 4) asked US lawmakers to approve US$29 billion ($39.4 billion) in disaster relief funds to assist victims of recent hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

The aid request includes US$12.8 billion in new funds to help storm victims and US$16 billion to defray debt in the federal government's flood insurance programme. The White House said the programme would reach the limit of its borrowing authority late this month. The administration also wants another US$576.5 million to pay for fighting wildfires in the western United States.

Separately, the White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, asked federal agencies in a memorandum on Wednesday to estimate by Oct 25 how much additional funding they will need for "long-term disaster recovery."

He said agencies should only identify costs related directly to recent storms to "support recovery and rebuilding from these recent hurricanes."

The White House said the disaster funding will ensure it has enough funds to provide support through Dec 31 and earlier this week had about US$10 billion on hand.

The White House told Congress it is committing US$200 million a day for recovery efforts.

The White House said it forecasts the National Flood Insurance Programme, which insures about five million homes and businesses, will have hurricane losses of about US$16 billion and proposed cancelling US$16 billion in debt for the programme.

The administration proposed a series of reforms to the program, including phasing out issuing policies for newly constructed homes and for commercial customers after 2021.

The administration also wants to establish means testing to ensure the insurance remains affordable for low-income policyholders and to discontinue coverage for homes that are hit by repeated storms.

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