Ryan, Lawmakers Tour Irma-Damaged Keys, Pledge Funding

MIAMI (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan promised to get federal funding for the victims of the Irma-ravaged Sunshine state as he and a group of bipartisan congressional leaders assessed the damage Wednesday.

Ryan, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and a handful of other lawmakers toured the Florida Keys, eyeing what will be needed to help those hardest hit by Irma rebuild. The lawmakers were acutely aware that as they spoke a powerful Hurricane Maria was lashing Puerto Rico and would require even more resources from rapidly diminishing federal disaster funds.

Ryan said the FEMA’s spend down rate had been accelerating “very quickly as opposed to prior hurricanes” which is why Congress already approved more funding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Irma. He said the agency would get another $6.7 million in 10 days, adding that another round of supplemental funding in October was very likely once lawmakers had a better handle on the damage.

Ryan promised residents that “the federal response will be complete.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wis. talks to reporters during a news briefing after assessing damages in the Florida Keys caused by Hurricane Irma, at the Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Opa-locka, Fla. Photo: AP Photo/Alan Diaz.

He noted New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the appropriations committee, standing behind him who would be “the chief architect of the legislation that’s yet to come” to ensure funds were poured into damaged areas.

Rubio marveled at Irma’s scope and magnitude, which cut a wide swath through the state, hitting the Keys and the northeastern corner of Jacksonville. Rubio said the agriculture industry was dramatically impacted by the storm and pledged to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make sure that industry, along with many of the small businesses that dot the Florida Keys get federal disaster funding.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) said getting FEMA funding for Florida was one of his top priorities.

“We know the agency is going to get an infusion of funds but those funds are only going to last a few weeks so we need a robust funding package for FEMA so we can help Florida, Texas, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other parts of our country.”