Dozens are dead and tens of thousands of Texans remain homeless, their homes and lives shattered by Hurricane Harvey’s epic deluge of flood water. Along with Congress, President Donald Trump's top priority should be getting as much disaster relief to Southeast Texas as quickly as possible.
For now, the president and his congressional allies should forget about the proposed Mexican border wall. Forget about taking money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help build it. Forget about shutting down the federal government, if money in next year's budget doesn't include a down payment on the wall.
And forget about anything that inflames partisan divisions, when the nation should unite around a common purpose: Rescuing flood-ravaged regions struck by Hurricane Harvey.
Public safety is a core function of the federal government, and tens of thousands people are not safe.
Shutting the federal government down now would be practically criminal. To avoid it, the president should authorize a short-term extension of the federal spending bill before Oct. 1 – without divisive wall funding.
It could take months to determine how much Harvey will cost the federal government. This is no time to talk about a controversial wall along the southern border that could cost up to $20 billion.
Trump can make his case for the wall, and Congress can argue its merits after the federal government has met its obligations to those displaced and made desperate by the greatest deluge of rain in continental U.S. history. Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, experienced more than 50 inches in four days.
Think about it. Nearly 200,000 people have begun the process of seeking federal aid. The costs to the federal government of rescue, and then recovery, will be enormous -- with only $3 billion remaining in federal disaster relief money.
Insurance will cover far less than needed to rebuild homes and businesses from the devastation, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimates will exceed the $120 billion of Hurricane Katrina. The vast majority of affected homeowners in the Houston area are not insured for flood damage, either privately or through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Without flood coverage, homeowners will need to apply for federal loans or grants. Loans will only add to their desperation by adding another expense to their mortgage payment.
A border wall is not desperately needed. Prolonging unimaginable suffering in the wake of the Harvey disaster is unacceptable. Examples abound.
In Beaumont this week, crews found a shaking 3-year-old clinging to her mother's drowned body in a rain-swollen canal. In Houston, officers recovered a submerged van, swept off a bridge into a flooded bayou, with six dead family members.
In surrounding cities like Palestine, evacuees wait and worry in motel rooms, wondering if their loved ones are alive. On Friday, a Facebook post by U.S. Marines reported egregious conditions in a flooded nursing home in Port Arthur, where residents, the post says, were trapped for days, covered in feces, without medications.
In a visit to Texas this week, Trump promised assistance to hurricane victims, and vowed to get it to them quickly.
For now, that – and that alone – should be his and the federal government's first priority.
This editorial published in the Palestine, Texas, Herald Press.