Harvey Recovery Will Take $150 to $180 Billion in Federal Aid, Says Texas Governor

by | September 5, 2017

By Jonathan Tilove

Gov. Greg Abbott estimated Sunday that Texas will ultimately need between $150 billion and $180 billion in federal aid to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

In appearances on FOX News Sunday and CNN's State of the Union, the governor said the destruction wrought by Harvey far exceeds, in geographic scope and in numbers of people and homes affected, both Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which he said cost the federal government $40 billion to $50 billion, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which he said cost more than $120 billion.

"I think this will cost well over $120 billion, probably $150 (billion) to $180 billion," Abbott said on FOX.

Of President Donald Trump's initial request for $7.9 billion in aid, Abbott said, "What the president has done is make an additional request before the end of this funding cycle to get things up and running."

"I think Congress understands this is a down payment on something that will cost far more," Abbott said.

"We have a long row to hoe if we are going to rebuild the fourth largest city in the United States as well as the entire geographic region," Abbott said.

"The president both is and has made a lot of specific commitments," Abbott said. "Basically he has told me, and he has acted upon what he has said, that whatever Texas needs, Texas is going to get."

Abbott was with Trump Saturday  for the president's second trip to Texas since the storm and flooding. The president was criticized for not expressing empathy for victims of the disaster during his visit Tuesday to Corpus Christi and Austin, but, Abbott said Sunday on FOX, "yesterday, I got to tell you, the president was warm and compassionate and caring."

Abbott said that at a visit to a large shelter in Houston, the president was "holding and kissing and hugging" young children displaced by the flooding, and, "we fed lunch to people who were evacuees."

Abbott also appeared Sunday on ABC's This Week in an interview taped Saturday after the president's visit.

"Texans have already gone to work rebuilding," he said.

"Texans have grit," the governor added. "They will respond with speed and with fellowship."

But, asked about rebuilding in areas prone to flooding, Abbott said, "It would be insane for us to rebuild on property that has been flooded multiple times. I think everyone is probably in agreement that there are better strategies that need to be employed."

Abbott was asked on both FOX and CNN about the perils of flood waters contaminated by chemicals from 13 toxic waste sites in the area.

On FOX, Abbott said that in any flood situation there are going to be contamination concerns: "It could involve chemicals, it could involve waste, and people need to be very cautious as they go through the rebuilding process."

Of the impact of flooding on 13 Superfund sites, Abbott said, "the EPA is monitoring that. The EPA is going to get on top of that."

"We're working with the EPA to make sure we can contain any of these chemicals from harming anybody in the Greater Houston area or any place," he said.

Abbott said those concerns shouldn't inhibit Texans who are already involved in cleaning up and restoring their homes and businesses, but people should take precautions and "wear gloves, wear masks, wear clothing," so their skin doesn't come in contact with contaminated water.

On FOX, Abbott said that search and rescue operations remain the top priority, especially in Beaumont, where the water is still rising.

And elsewhere, he said of the recovery and rebuilding to come, "This is where the long haul begins."

Abbott invited viewers to help in that effort by contributing to "RebuildTX.org run by the state of Texas."

He did not mention the role played by Michael and Susan Dell, who launched the fund, in cooperation with the state of Texas, on Friday with an initial contribution of $18 million and a commitment to donate another dollar for every $2 contributed over the Labor Day weekend up to another $18 million, with a goal of raising $100 million altogether.

Sunday evening, the governor released a statement encouraging donations to the Rebuild Texas Fund noting that the donations made by midnight Monday would be eligible for the match from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and that those wishing to donate can do so by visiting www.rebuildtx.org or by texting "Rebuildtx" to 91999.

"With the match deadline looming, I encourage those who can to contribute to this fund that will help those affected by Hurricane Harvey rebuild their lives," Abbott said in the statement. "A Texas-sized storm requires a Texas-sized response, and I have no doubt that those throughout the country will assist in this response effort."

On both CNN and ABC, Abbott sidestepped a direct answer to what the president should do about the future of DACA -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program protecting from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children and meet certain requirements. Trump has promised a decision on the future of DACA, which President Barack Obama imposed by executive action in 2012, on Tuesday.

Texas has more people -- commonly call "dreamers" -- protected by DACA than any state but California.

Abbott said the ultimate answer was immigration reform. But he notably did not join some other prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who are urging the president not to do away with the program.

In 2014, in one of his last acts as attorney general before becoming governor, Abbott led an ultimately successful effort by Texas and 25 other states to block Obama's expansion of DACA by executive order.

His successor, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Paxton's counterparts in nine other states have vowed to file a lawsuit to end the program if Trump doesn't take action by Tuesday.

(c)2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas