N.Y. flooding puts disaster spending stalemate in stark relief

By Emma Dumain | 09/29/2023 04:27 PM EDT

The House and Senate remain at odds over how much money to approve for disaster aid and when.

New York flood.

A man works to clear a drain in floodwaters Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. A potent rush-hour rainstorm has swamped the New York metropolitan area. Jake Offenhartz/AP Photo

On the eve of a government shutdown, New York City became the latest locality to be pummeled by an extreme weather event — and members of Congress still lack a plan to protect two federal programs necessary for bringing relief to beleaguered communities from the effects of a funding lapse.

When the government runs out of money after midnight Saturday, authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, will expire.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) tried a second time this week to bring up a three-month extension of the program on the Senate floor Friday, but was again thwarted by objections from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that the NFIP constitutes a taxpayer subsidy for the rich.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s depleted disaster relief fund, meanwhile, is in desperate need of replenishment, administration officials have said.

As of Friday afternoon, New York City was under a state of emergency. Subway lines had been suspended — a drastic move for a metropolis that relies so heavily on its public transit system — and neighborhoods were submerged in water.

“As we speak, my hometown of New York is experiencing some of the most frightening rainfall and flooding we’ve seen since Hurricane Sandy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor. “About a month’s worth of rain has inundated Brooklyn in a matter of hours … and we’re not through the storm yet.”

Schumer said he was in communication with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who promised him assistance “to deal with the immediate effects of the flood” and “to provide resources New Yorkers will need to rebuild and recover.”

“And here in the Senate,” he continued, “I will work to secure any federal assistance possible.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said: “The flooding is devastating and I’m very worried. Have you seen the photos of LaGuardia [Airport]? It’s going to shut down air travel. It’s going to shut down transportation. Have you seen the flooding in Brooklyn? It’s devastating.”

She pledged to “make sure that FEMA has all the resources it needs and that New York has all the resources it needs.”

The Senate’s bipartisan framework to prevent a government shutdown includes roughly $6 billion in supplemental funds for FEMA’s disaster relief fund and a 30-day extension of the NFIP. A procedural vote is scheduled for Saturday.

‘It’s insane’

Across the Capitol, the House is in a total state of chaos after 21 Republicans joined all Democrats on Friday afternoon to tank a partisan stopgap that would fund the government for 30 days at spending levels that go far lower than what Senate Democrats or the White House would support.

The failed House GOP bill contained money for FEMA but none of the $16 billion President Joe Biden requested in supplemental appropriations. It would also extend the NFIP.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said that while FEMA could sustain “life-or-death” operations during a shutdown, “that only applies if there are no more large, large events. We will have a different answer if there is a catastrophic event that pushes FEMA past the point of having enough money.”

She added, “We’re still in hurricane season.”

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said, “My office is basically underwater in New York, and they’re predicting 7 inches. It’s insane. This is insane.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), whose state was impacted by Hurricane Idalia in August, has said he wants FEMA to have the money it needs to respond to such crises.

But Gaetz, who is urging Republicans to hold off on supporting any short-term spending measure until the House passes all 12 appropriations bills, appeared on Friday to shrug off urgency.

First he suggested the House needed to pass the Energy-Water spending bill. When told that wouldn’t help FEMA, which is funded through another bill, and that the agency said it was running out of money, Gaetz said, “They’re not out yet.”

Reporters Andres Picon and Robin Bravender contributed.