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Air Force Needs Almost $5 Billion To Recover Bases From Hurricane, Flood Damage

An aerial view of Offutt Air Force Base and the surrounding areas affected by floodwaters in Nebraska on March 17. One-third of the base was covered by water from flooding.
Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake
U.S. Air Force via AP

The U.S. Air Force says it needs $4.9 billion in new funding over the next two and a half years to cover the costs of rebuilding two air bases hit by natural disasters.

About one-third of Offutt Air Force Base, in eastern Nebraska, was underwater earlier this month as flooding hit large swaths of the Midwest. And Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle was hit hard by Hurricane Michael in October.

The Air Force is asking for $1.2 billion in supplemental funding for fiscal year 2019 and $3.7 billion for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Congress would need to approve the funding.

"This storm, if we don't get a supplemental, is going to affect the rest of the Air Force and our ability to operate," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation. "We desperately need the supplemental to recover from the natural disaster that hammered Tyndall and Offutt."

She added that 61 projects — consisting largely of operations and maintenance — at air bases in 18 states would not happen if the supplemental disaster funding does not come through.

She estimated the cost of the hurricane at Tyndall was about $750 million in this year's operation and maintenance funds, with 95 percent of buildings damaged, while "we haven't even begun to estimate fully what the impact at Offutt is going to be."

She said recovery efforts so far at Tyndall have relied on "robbing" funding from other accounts, "just to try to cope and get through."

The request for additional money comes as President Trump has called for repurposing $3.6 billion in military construction funding to help build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Wilson denied the supplemental funding request was related to the wall. "No no, it's a completely different issue. This is about recovering from the natural disaster, the Hurricane Michael that hit Tyndall and now the flooding in Nebraska," she said.

The Air Force fiscal year 2020 budget proposal is for $165 billion, Wilson said.

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James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
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