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Waters Floor Remarks on Trump Budget Cuts to Disaster Relief and the Importance of Responsible NFIP Reauthorization

Washington, DC, September 7, 2017

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, made the following statement from the House floor:

As Prepared for Delivery

I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.

On August 26, Hurricane Harvey began a path of unprecedented destruction across Southeast Texas. The historic levels of rainfall were so extraordinary that the National Weather Service had to add new colors to its map graphics just to record it. As of August 30, it was estimated that 24.5 trillion gallons of water had been dumped over Texas and Louisiana. Harvey is now being called the most extreme rain event in United States history. Year after year, the natural disasters that hit the United States are becoming more frequent and more severe – and Democrats understand the root cause – climate change. It is long overdue for President Trump and Congressional Republicans to admit the truth.

Quickly following the tragic news that Harvey was on a path to cause catastrophic flooding in Texas, President Trump pledged to help pass the necessary financial aid to begin the long recovery process. But of course, the president and Members of Congress all knew we had better not deny or delay funding for this very devastating natural disaster. The American people expected their government to quickly respond to Harvey. However, we must understand that there are other laws and policies that must be protected. Laws that determine what the Congress can do and must do to assist our country with mitigation, preparedness, mapping and affordable national flood insurance. The NFIP must be dealt with and must be understood.

So Mr. Trump’s previous record on the issue is appalling and is in direct contradiction to his latest pledge. Just days before Harvey made landfall, Trump repealed an Obama Executive Order that would have required the federal government to account for climate change so that infrastructure could be built to withstand catastrophic events. Trump also sent Congress a budget that cuts funding for programs that help us understand, prepare for, and recover from storms like Harvey. His budget slashes operations and funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate research, cuts $62 million from the Weather Service, eliminates Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, guts Coastal Zone Management grants, and cuts $190 million from the National Flood Insurance Program’s flood mapping program.

Trump’s budget would also cut $114 million from the Department of Agriculture’s disaster assistance that would help farmers recover livestock, crops and equipment that will be felt in Texas where many farms are currently under several feet of water. His budget also completely eliminates HUD’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs, vital grant programs that serve as one of the first available sources of funding to help communities recover even before disaster relief funding can be appropriated from Congress. What’s more, Trump’s budget would have cut nearly $876 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, the very fund that Trump is now pledging billions of dollars to support. And so we’re pleased that he learned after the fact. All told, Trump would cut billions of dollars – for disaster preparedness and disaster-relief programs. Of course, he also appointed a known climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, so I for one am not surprised that this is where his priorities lie.

The hypocrisy and shortsightedness do not end with Donald Trump. Let’s remember that many House Republicans, including both Texas Senators, opposed disaster aid following Superstorm Sandy. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, they are asking for billions of dollars in taxpayer support for their constituents. Of course, we should pass a disaster aid package quickly and without hesitation because it is simply the right thing and the American thing to do. But just as we are now witnessing the sudden change of heart for disaster relief in certain Members of Congress, I hope that we will see a similar change of heart in response to the push of certain Republicans to unwind the National Flood Insurance Program.

Chairman Hensarling, who hails from Dallas, Texas, has pushed for controversial legislation to raise the cost of flood insurance on American homeowners and businesses across the country. He believes the federal government should not play a role in protecting Americans from the financial risk of flooding, but I find some comfort in the words of a House GOP leadership aide, who recently said to the press, “Are we really going to have a philosophical debate about what role the federal government should play in flood insurance when people’s homes are underwater? I think not.” To make matters worse, Chairman Hensarling is now calling for a mere three-month extension of the NFIP, adding further controversy and opposition to his flailing plans. With 73,000 claims and counting rolling into the NFIP from Harvey alone, three months of certainty is just not good enough. It can often take months to complete a home sale and the possibility that flood insurance may not be available could stall the market. Not surprisingly, the Chairman is also attempting to attach a major policy reform to this short-sighted extension that would open up private sector participation in the market. I am not opposed to that idea, but as some Republican Members have pointed out, we have to do so in a way that does not create cherry-picking.

We have a matter of days before the National Flood Insurance Program expires and millions of Americans lose access to flood insurance, devastating families, communities, and sending the housing market into a tailspin. I stand ready to work with Republicans on a responsible, long-term reauthorization that ensures continued access to affordable flood insurance for every household in the U.S.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield back.


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