May 30, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Californians in Congress Must Back Hurricane Aid

By Tom Elias

 

It doesn’t seem that way now, with one hurricane after another battering the East and Gulf coasts, shutting down oil refineries, flooding downtowns and residential neighborhoods alike and inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of damages. But California remains the most disaster-prone state in America.

That’s why it behooves Californians in Congress to get behind every hurricane aid package they can this fall. Their own districts may be next.

It’s not a matter of if California will be struck by another major earthquake, but when. It’s not a matter of if wildfires will consume homes and businesses; they do it every year and 2017 is no exception.

California also could see massive floods if some flawed dams here fail during the next season of heavy rain.

The costs of Hurricane Irma have not yet been totted up, but Harvey’s toll is pretty well known: at least $180 billion in damage, and likely a final tally about twice that.

Insurance companies will cover at lot of this, but despite what we often hear, Texans are not so different from Californians: We often vote differently, but we share a tendency to be under-insured for catastrophe. So while nowhere near half of Californians living in known earthquake fault zones have quake insurance because they feel prices and deductibles are too high, it’s the much the same with Texans living in flood plains in and around cities like Houston, Port Arthur and Beaumont: well over half lack flood insurance.

This means the federal government must step in. President Trump, knowing how basic Texas and Florida are to his political fortunes, has pushed hard for bigly (as he might put it) aid to hurricane victims. No Californian voted against the initial Harvey aid package approved by Congress, but Irma aid remains an unknown.

Any Californian who votes against even part of it would be a shortsighted fool, the way Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have been revealed as hypocrites for opposing aid after the devastating East Coast Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

No sooner did Cruz, for one, demand big-dollar help for Texas after Harvey than fellow Republican Chris Christie, the embattled governor of New Jersey, lambasted him for pushing double standards because of his vote against post-Sandy aid. Cruz called that bill a “Christmas tree” of unrelated boondoggles, but the Congressional Research Office found virtually all its money went to genuine reconstruction or prevention projects.

It’s also true that only one Texas Republican in the House voted for Sandy aid. So there is some doubt their GOP friends from areas hit by Sandy will be very generous with Texans in upcoming rounds of disaster funding.

Now fast forward to the next big California quake. It’s highly possible whoever is President then will be far less sympathetic to distraught Californians than former President Bill Clinton was in 1994, after the last major urban temblor struck California. Clinton produced more than $10 billion in federal aid, setting up many offices for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to dispense checks for reconstruction and prevention of future damage via retrofits securing homes to their foundations. More than 100,000 homeowners got checks for $10,000 or more.

If – rather, when – the truly Big One of about 8.0 on the Richter Scale strikes along the San Andreas Fault, damages will dwarf what any hurricane can do. Maybe that’s why none of the eight California Republicans in the House who voted no on helping Sandy’s victims opposed post-Harvey assistance. (All Democrats voting were on the yes side both times.)

Those eight include several from quake-prone areas, like Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Paul Cook of Yucca Valley and Darrell Issa of Vista. Others, like Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Jeff Denham of Turlock are already targets for other reasons and need no more trouble.

The bottom line: Any Californians opposing aid to hurricane victims might also be casting a virtual vote against relief that will be desperately needed in California’s future. Why would any of those folks want to be so short-sighted, no matter how tight-fisted they are on other federal spending? Then again, some of them have done it before.

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

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