Obama: Don't Underestimate Hurricane Matthew

President says there's enough money for immediate hurricane response

President Barack Obama told residents in the path of Hurricane Matthew to “pay attention to what your local officials are telling you.” (Douglas Graham / CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal disaster relief fund should have ample funds to pay for immediate needs in response to Hurricane Matthew as the powerful storm pummels Florida and heads north, President Barack Obama said Friday.

Still, when Congress returns in November for a lame-duck session, there should be discussions about “how to fund effectively” a series of natural disasters, including additional relief for Matthew and extensive flooding in Louisiana, he said.

A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency told Roll Call on Thursday that there’s about $5 billion available in the agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, which can be quickly tapped for an initial response.

Obama’s remarks suggest that additional disaster relief dollars and the always-contentious debate about how to offset them with other federal cuts could be a hurdle when lawmakers try to craft a massive year-end spending bill before continuing appropriations expire in December.

Both chambers handed flood-ravaged Louisiana $500 million in federal assistance late last month as part of a 10-week stopgap measure. But state officials requested $2.6 billion, and have since said they wanted more from Washington.

“The people who’ve been impacted need to be reassured that help is on the way, and I am extremely grateful to the president and our entire congressional delegation for their commitment to bring much-needed relief to the people of Louisiana,“ Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement last month.

The Democratic governor called the $500 million a “down payment from the federal government on our recovery needs.” He described himself as “hopeful and optimistic” that any year-end federal spending bill would include the remaining funds he has requested.

Meantime, Obama waded just a bit into the politics of Hurricane Matthew.

After the Drudge Report on Thursday evening called the Obama administration’s description of Hurricane Matthew a ploy to trump up its climate change warnings, Obama urged people in the storm’s path to not treat it as a weak storm.

Speaking to a media pool in the Oval Office, he urged residents in Matthew’s path to “pay attention to what your local officials are telling you.”

Though experts say the hurricane is, so far, not doing as much damage as feared as it moves up Florida’s Atlantic coastline, Obama called it “still a really dangerous hurricane.”

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