Giving his agency high marks for how the feds responded to three major hurricanes and serious wildfires in California, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told Congress on Tuesday that the cost of dealing with those disasters continues to stress the resources of the federal government.
"I've heard numbers inside from my finance guys that say we're probably spending about $200 million a day right now, just responding to the four disasters that we are facing," FEMA Adminstrator Brock Long told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
"Each one of these events could truly be catastrophic, stand-alone events," said Long. "But they happened in rapid succession of a 25 day period, which is obviously unprecedented."
Congress has already approved $52 billion in disaster aid; another aid request is expected soon from the White House, though officials have said they want some budget cuts from lawmakers to offset the growing cost of the relief.
Pressed several times to say which hurricane would be the most expensive, Long said that answer isn't clear, but he rattled off some of these statistics:
+ In terms of the number of people asking for individual aid from FEMA, Florida has by far the most at 2.5 million from Hurricane Irma, with less than 1 million in Texas from Hurricane Harvey.
+ Disaster aid to deal with damaged housing though is tilted toward Harvey and Texas, as Long said that state will have a much larger cost to repair homes which were flooded in Houston and along the Gulf Coast.
+ Long also acknowledged that the costs continue to grow in Puerto Rico, simply because of the scope of the damage on that island.
At the same hearing, Long was also asked about the situation involving Puerto Rico's electric utility, and the circumstances behind a $300 million contract signed with a small firm from Montana to restore power on the island.
Long made clear - despite some talk from the company, Whitefish Energy - that FEMA had not been involved at all, telling one Senator, "that was not our contract."
"There was also language in there that would suggest that the federal government would never audit Whitefish," Long said about the contract with PREPA, the Puerto Rico electric authority.
"There's not a lawyer inside FEMA that would ever agree to that type of language," Long added.