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Disaster survivors fear a government shutdown will also shut down their aid

They've been fighting for help — and that was before the looming shutdown

Marberth Moses’s house sunk into the ground when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last August. He lost all his carpentry tools, then his job, and then his house. His request for assistance from FEMA was denied — twice.

Moses is one of nearly half of affected Texans who say they are “not getting the help” they need to recover from the hurricane and was one of several survivors to testify before the Texas Land Representatives Committee Thursday about the difficulties of finding long-term housing after the devastating storm.


As lawmakers attempt to get a long-term spending bill passed before Friday at midnight to avoid government shutdown, survivors of last year’s historic natural disasters — affecting Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas, and California — are watching closely, and wondering if they will ever fully recover.

“They’re saying we may not see that money till some time this summer and I’m thinking, ‘What good is that doing to the people right now’?” Moses told VICE News. “You got people who are homeless.”

In December, the U.S. House of Representatives scrambled to approve an $81 billion disaster relief bill before Christmas. But the Senate stalled on the aid package, and advocates are now worried the bill has taken a back seat in the fiercely partisan political war currently brewing over immigration.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner both individually criticized Congress at the Houston hearing Thursday, emphasizing that Texans are in urgent need of help.

“People are waiting, they need help and we need Congress to act,” Bush said.”This is above politics, this is above party labels, people are still hurting.”

Turner added he was “very very disappointed with what's happening in D.C."

Congress has so far passed two aid packages worth roughly $51 billion - one in September and one in October - to be shared across areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma, as well as the West coast wildfires.


But the kind of aid needed is much more than that. Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosello requested $94.4 billion from Congress in November to rebuild the island, while Texas Governor Abbott requested an additional $61 billion at the end of October.

Not only would a government shutdown further withhold funding from desperate communities across the U.S., but FEMA would also have to temporarily reduce its workforce by more than 3,000 employees, according to the Washington Post, who cited the Department of Homeland Security’s contingency plan.

Rossello slammed the federal government’s disaster relief response towards Puerto Rico last Friday, calling it “unacceptable” and “inhumane.”

On Thursday, Rossello also urged Congress to appropriate disaster relief funds ahead of the looming shutdown.

Republicans, for their part, are painting Senate Democrats as holding the disaster relief hostage to force their hand on DACA.

“Why do Senate Ds slow-walk disaster relief (for Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and the West) plus defense needs in order to force a DACA deal?” Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas tweeted on Jan 5.