Don’t tell Laura Fields that providing $ 1.7 million for her flood-prone neighborhood would be an unnecessary expense. His house in a subdivision in the Houston area was filled with 10 inches (25 centimeters) of water during Hurricane Harvey.
âThe stress was just awful,â Fields said. “You know, seeing fish swimming in your house is not a good impression.”
The money sought by his congressman Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw to improve drainage and flood prevention in Huffman, Texas, is among thousands of demands lawmakers have submitted as Congress begins to lift a moratorium on targeted federal spending, often referred to as targets.
The earmarking of funds – often referred to as âpig barrelâ spending because lawmakers diverted funds to familiar projects in their states – was suspended ten years ago. Critics believed too many projects went to a handful of powerful lawmakers and encouraged a âpay-to-playâ culture in which campaign contributions were often solicited from lobbyists and others.
Now, brands are making a sudden and robust comeback, revamped and renamed. Lawmakers from both parties are increasingly frustrated with their inability to shape spending legislation and fear Congress has ceded too much of the stock market’s power to executive power.
The experiment could rise or fall on the reaction of voters, especially in places skeptical of Washington’s spending. Many Republicans in Congress refuse to book on principle, calling it a graft. Crenshaw said in a statement he was “proud” to advocate for resources that would help his constituents and that the flood control program “will ensure that we don’t have to spend even more resources to recover from future floods.” .
âIt’s not wasted expense, no sir, not at all,â Fields said. “These are our homes. This is where we are supposed to feel safe and not have to worry about every time a storm hits.”
About $ 14 billion, or 1% of discretionary spending, will be spent on allotments in this year’s spending bills. The demands made by lawmakers, listed on the House Appropriations Committee website, go beyond roads, bridges and research grants allocated in the past.
Republican Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana, for example, wants $ 775,000 for a mobile medical clinic offering free cancer screenings to rural residents in his district.
And Democratic Representative Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania wants $ 650,000 for mental health professionals to partner with the police or intervene when someone is going through a mental health crisis.
It remains to be decided which projects will be funded. Lawmakers have been told they can make up to 10 requests, but “no one will get 10 requests,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
Proponents of the designated brands have put up guardrails to stem complaints of corruption and waste that have arisen in the past. Yet more than 100 House Republicans and one Democrat refused to participate in what is now called “community project funding.”
Graves said he asked for money for the mobile cancer screening unit because some communities in his district are experiencing higher cancer rates than the national average.
âYou hear again and again, the lack of access to care, the difficulty in getting appointments, the affordability,â Graves said. âThis kind of solution solves all of those historic gaps or challenges, because it’s the provider coming your way – sort of a 2021 version of the doctor with his little black bag making house calls.â
Graves voted against reactivating benchmarks when members of the House GOP conference changed their rules earlier this year. He said the process could still be improved, but ultimately it’s better than letting federal agencies dictate where the money goes. And he said there was more responsibility when lawmakers had to disclose and defend their demands.
In one of its requests, Scanlon drew on the experiences of last summer as residents of Philadelphia and beyond protested the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police.
âYou know we hear stories all the time about people calling 911 when someone is in mental distress and then the police come in and there are misunderstandings and there can be fatal mistakes,â Scanlon said. .
Scanlon cited the Philadelphia death of Walter Wallace Jr., who was fatally shot last year after ignoring the order to drop a knife. His mother said she told police her son was in the throes of a mental health crisis.
âThe police arrived at the scene. They weren’t equipped with Taser, âScanlon said. It seemed they didn’t know how to defuse the situation, and within a minute Walter Wallace had been shot several times and died. ”
She said county law enforcement officials and the local emergency medical system have requested funding to help integrate mental health specialists into law enforcement. It was one of 10 projects she selected from around sixty applicants. The House appropriations committee will further develop this list.
âSetting the expectations really low because we don’t know if we’ll get something has been part of the challenge of rolling out the program,â Scanlon said.
The Earmarks still have many detractors in Congress. About half of House Republicans have refused to apply for funding for local projects, including Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Club for Growth, a conservative group, said its member’s ballot report would indicate whether they signed a letter from Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, pledging to refrain from any requests for assignments.
The group said the earmarks are being used as “legalized corruption” to trick lawmakers into supporting big spending elsewhere.
âUnder members of Congress who say, ‘I’m going to have my bridge’ or ‘I’m going to have my museum’ or ‘I’m going to get’ whatever it is, you’re kind of indebted,” Roy said. ” This is what I think is the most problematic. “
Senate Republicans have maintained their conference rules prohibiting postings, but lawmakers are not bound by them.
In addition, the House transport and infrastructure committee will include money in a bill to re-authorize money for roads, bridges and transit programs. Democrats asked for money for 1,775 projects and Republicans asked for money for 605 projects.
As part of the verification process, legislators must provide evidence of community support for the goals they seek.
In Texas, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said 40% of homes in the Huffman neighborhood had been flooded, some multiple times.
Garcia said the money would be used to improve and widen existing roadside ditches and culverts that drain water, moving it to bayous and other waterways. The improvements are part of flood control projects that Harris County voters approved in 2018 with a $ 2.5 billion bond measure. In March, county commissioners said they were facing a shortfall of $ 1.4 billion to fully fund the bond program’s flood relief projects.
Federal money, Garcia said, will help close the gap.
â’We’ve been waiting four years (since Hurricane Harvey). We can’t wait any longer, âGarcia said. Mother Nature will no longer give us a break. ”
Freking reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Juan A. Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.