As a dedicated population struggles to survive possibly the worst storm ever to hit the United States, economists are still trying to put a price tag on the cleanup. Human costs simply are so great not even the experts can estimate the emotional costs of the storm.
Real cost estimates already are reaching the $40 billion range just to repair the 200,000 homes in the path of Hurricane Harvey and rain-filled clouds are not through yet. In 2005, the cost for Hurricane Katrina was in the $125 billion range, and Harvey may be twice as big as that.
The damage in human terms and dollars could not have come at a worst time for so many residents of the Gulf Coast, many of them among the poorest among us. The cleanup will take years, as proven in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina whose damages are still being felt in New Orleans.
The Trump administration, while putting on a good show, seems to have taken special aim at the needy as it did for months in trying to put together a health-care program that would have been devastating to survivors of the storm. It would have left hundreds of thousands of them without health insurance at possibly the worst time in their lives.
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Deep cuts are aimed at some of the most critical assistance programs for the poor, the sick and the young by attacking health care generally, the food stamp program, student loan programs and disability payments.
If Congress ultimately approves the administration’s budget cuts, as it may well do, one of its biggest hits would take $840 billion from Medicaid, the government’s health program for the poor and aged. Overall, the cuts would take $192 billion from nutritional assistance programs, virtually all of them dedicated to helping the poor.
Finally, there is the $1.6 billion request to build Trump’s pet project, a wall to keep undocumented Mexican immigrants out at our southern border.
Experts have put the cost of the tax cuts at $2 trillion. The most galling aspect of Trump’s program is that 50 percent of tax cut savings would go to the ultra-rich like Trump and his family, millionaire members of Trump’s Cabinet and virtually every Republican member of Congress.
On top of all this, the war-loving Trump has proposed a 10 percent increase in military spending and purchase of multi-billion-dollar military hardware that no major country in the world has matched since World War II. Total military spending under his plan would near $640 billion. He just announced that he will send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to continue that expensive war that is now heading toward its 16th year of failure.
The death toll surely will rise dramatically, adding more tears to the rainfall that will not seem to let up. To date, there are 30 known or suspected deaths associated with the storm, whereas 1,833 died in Katrina.
It will take years to get the coast’s massive energy infrastructure up and running. It took six years to mend refineries after Katrina, and Harvey ripped through 10 of the largest refineries in the world.
Together, they produce 2 million barrels of oil a day, or about one-third of the nation’s total production. The rain simply will not stop. Harvey’s rainfall in less than a week dumped more water on the area than usually falls in an entire year, and now the levees and dams are overflowing.
So, where does this leave the nation, particularly the victims of Hurricane Harvey?
First, it leaves a president in charge who cares more about confirming the size of his presidential victory and his Russian friends than dealing with America’s real problems.
Second, it leaves the United States facing budget increases in needless spending on a border wall that will equal the sophistication of a ladder.
Finally, it leaves a nation facing cutbacks in crucial life-giving programs so the savings can be passed on to the richest 1 percent of American families.
And it leaves thousands of Americans without homes or food for the night in a flood of biblical proportions without leadership, life support or caring.