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Budgeting for Hurricane Harvey relief could stop Trump’s plans to shut down the government

A motorist drives through heavy rain before the approaching Hurricane Harvey hits Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

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Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday, leaving five dead and causing catastrophic floods. Now thousands of struggling residents are in need of housing, food and clothing, among other resources.

When Congress reconvenes next week, it will have to come up with an aid plan with the president that will include flood insurance, disaster assistance and a variety of things that are not currently in the budget, said Stan Collender (The Budget Guy).

Of the roughly 5 million properties in flood hazard areas, less than a third are insured by the National Flood Insurance Program, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Standard homeowner insurance policies exclude flooding, which is why you’d typically need a separate policy through the NFIP, said Robert Hartwig, a professor at the University of South Carolina and the former president of the Insurance Information Institute.

“While the NFIP will probably be paying out billions of dollars of losses, there will be an even larger number of people and small businesses who have no flood protection at all,” Hartwig said.  

Hartwig said that Hurricane Harvey may have led to about $8 billion to $10 billion in insured losses, while the total economic losses are roughly double that.

Securing aid for Hurricane Harvey victims seems like slam-dunk legislation, but it’s actually not that simple, as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy indicates. The Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans, pushed for trade-offs.

“[They] were big on saying, ‘All right, if you need money for Hurricane Sandy, then we want it offset with other spending cuts,’” according to Collender. “So there will clearly be some in Congress who are saying if you’ve got an emergency need like a family that needs to replace a roof, then you’ve got to cut back in other places.”

And amid all these these potentially contentious budget conversations is Trump’s push for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Collender said that Trump and Congress have to agree on continued government funding by Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown, a fact that complicates funding hurricane aid. 

Trump said in a speech in Arizona last week that if Congress doesn’t include money for the wall, he’ll shut down the government. But Collender said that if Congress decides to put the emergency for the affected areas into the bill to keep the government funded, Trump may not be able to veto it.

“Now we don’t know for sure. Remember, this is a president who doesn’t necessarily follow previous norms,” he added. “It’s also possible that Congress will include money for the wall in a separate emergency supplemental appropriation.”

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