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Obama asks Congress for $5.1 billion in disaster aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama asked Congress on Friday for $5.1 billion in supplemental disaster relief as damage from Hurricane Irene and other extreme weather events threatens to dry up federal funds.

The government has less than $600 million to help victims of floods, tornadoes and Irene which slammed the East Coast last month. It has already suspended some payments to ensure that money remains for those who have suffered the most.

In a letter to Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boenher, Obama asked Congress to consider $500 million in funding for fiscal year 2011 and a budget amendment for fiscal year 2012 of $4.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security.

"This request responds to urgent and essential needs," Obama said in the letter.

The money would cover the $1.5 billion Hurricane Irene has cost the federal government, as well as provide funds for other disasters. Irene killed at least 21 people and wrecked property from North Carolina to Vermont.

This year the United States has suffered 10 natural disasters with economic losses of $1 billion or more, according to the National Weather Service, breaking a previous record of 9 set in 2008.

A Senate panel approved $6 billion in disaster aid this week, but is was unclear whether Congress would be able to replenish the government's dwindling relief fund before it runs out.

Some Republicans have said disaster relief funds should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere to prevent the country's fiscal woes from worsening. Republicans control the House.

Democrats, who control the Senate, say Congress does not usually let budget concerns get in the way of disaster relief.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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