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Rubio backs $33 billion Florida hurricane aid supplemental

Biggest chunk would be for the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damage and initiate projects

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., boards the Senate subway after a vote in the Capitol on September 8, 2022.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., boards the Senate subway after a vote in the Capitol on September 8, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday outlined a $33 billion request for emergency appropriations to aid in the recovery from Hurricane Ian that ravaged parts of his state.

The request seeks funds from across a variety of federal departments and agencies, but the biggest chunk Rubio is seeking, $12.4 billion, would be for the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damage and initiate coastal storm risk management, flood control and ecosystem restoration projects.

The second-largest piece is $10.05 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Most of that, $10 billion, would go toward replenishing the agency’s disaster relief fund.

The recently enacted stopgap funding bill extending fiscal 2022 funding levels through Dec. 16 included an “anomaly” allowing FEMA to tap its full-year disaster appropriation upfront rather than just a prorated amount for the continuing resolution’s duration. That freed up $18.8 billion, which brings the total FEMA disaster account balance up to a little over $31 billion, based on the agency’s latest monthly update.

Rubio, who was home in Florida surveying the damage at the time, was absent for the stopgap funding bill vote.

The other $50 million that Rubio requested for FEMA is to fund a pilot program in partnership with the Florida state government to raise homes in flood-prone areas.

‘Initial assessment’

Rubio, a Senate Appropriations Committee member, describes the $33 billion as an “initial assessment” of the needs that will likely change as damage assessments continue.

An individual lawmaker-originated supplemental funding request is unusual. Typically such requests are made by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Appropriations Committees and congressional leaders decide what parts of the administration’s request to fund, often tweaking the amounts based on their own assessments of the needs.

Rubio’s decision to get ahead of the White House could be due to the fact that he’s up for reelection in November. With Congress out of session until after the midterms, there won’t be a vote on any funding for Hurricane Ian recovery efforts until at least mid-November, when both chambers are back in Washington.

Florida Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings is running against Rubio in the Senate race, which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Likely Republican.

As Rubio released his supplemental request Wednesday, Demings, who chairs the House Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Subcommittee that oversees FEMA, was leading a congressional delegation to oversee agency recovery efforts underway in Fort Myers.

Rubio and Florida’s other GOP senator, Rick Scott, sent a letter to Senate Appropriations leaders on Sept. 30 requesting their support in developing a supplemental for Hurricane Ian to be “considered at the earliest opportunity.”

“A robust and timely federal response, including through supplemental programs and funding, will be required to ensure that sufficient resources are provided to rebuild critical infrastructure and public services capacity, and to assist our fellow Floridians in rebuilding their lives,” the Florida senators wrote.

Eleven House Republicans from Florida, led by Rep. Greg Steube, went a step further in an Oct. 4 letter to House Appropriations leaders in requesting that the disaster aid be considered as a stand-alone measure.

“We ask that you exclusively focus on recent hurricane disasters in this package, and free from any language that is not directly related to the hurricane relief and recovery efforts,” they wrote.

With a packed lame-duck legislative agenda, it’s more likely that Congress would attach any supplemental funding to an omnibus appropriations package for fiscal 2023 that lawmakers are hoping to pass before the stopgap funding bill expires Dec. 16.

While Rubio’s request focuses solely on Hurricane Ian recovery efforts, appropriators are likely to consider that aid in conjunction with needs for other disasters, namely Hurricane Fiona, which caused significant damage to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Rubio’s letter with Scott expressed support for providing resources for both hurricanes.

Other aspects of Rubio’s Florida request include:

  • $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist with longer-term rebuilding projects.
  • $2.955 billion for the Agriculture Department, including $2 billion for the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program to cover costs of lost crops.
  • $1 billion for the EPA, most of which would fund clean water grants.
  • $400 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, half of which would go toward fisheries assistance.
  • $300 million for the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loans Program.
  • $150 million for the Coast Guard, including $45 million to rebuild Station Fort Myers.
  • $120 million for the Interior Department, including funds for cleanup and repairs to wildlife areas and national parks.
  • $125 million for Economic Development Administration grants to local governments.
  • $100 million for the Transportation Department to restore road access to Pine and Sanibel Islands.
  • $100 million each for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to repair damaged facilities and cover other hurricane-related costs.

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