Congress, White House Reach Deal on $19.1 Billion Disaster Aid Bill

Congress, White House Reach Deal on $19.1 Billion Disaster Aid Bill

Terray Sylvester

The Senate on Thursday passed a $19.1 billion disaster relief package after reaching a hard-fought agreement to end a months-long impasse. The deal reportedly came after President Trump agreed to support the bill even though it does not include any of the $4.5 billion in emergency funding his administration had sought to help feed and house migrants at the southern border.

Those additional border funds were just the latest in a line of partisan stumbling blocks, including Trump’s reluctance to provide more money for Puerto Rico, that had stalled the disaster relief legislation and delayed additional funds intended to help speed recovery efforts for areas hit by hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

The background: Disaster bills often receive bipartisan support — and don’t often run into the prolonged and repeated delays that befell this package.

“Congress has not passed a broad disaster relief package since February 2018, when lawmakers included nearly $90 billion in aid in a budget deal that reopened the government after a government shutdown,” The New York Times Emily Cochrane explains. “In the year since, natural disasters have devastated the country: hurricanes in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, wildfires in California, and floods across much of the Midwest.” More than 1 million Puerto Rico residents saw their food stamp payments cut after the program’s emergency funding expired in March.

What’s next: An 85-8 vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon sends the bill to the House. Democrats are reportedly expected to seek to pass the legislation by unanimous consent on Friday. A spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) told reporters earlier in the day that she wants to pass it through the House as soon as possible.

“Senators feel confident Trump will sign the deal, but White House officials on Thursday afternoon were trying to quickly scrub through all the details to see what was in the package and what had been left out,” The Washington Post reported.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters that lawmakers hope to revisit the additional border funding issue separately when they return from their Memorial Day recess, according to the Post.

Where the money will go: The legislation provides more than $3 billion for farmers hurt by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019; more than $1 billion to repair hurricane and flood damage to Marine and Air Force bases; and $600 million for nutrition assistance programs (food stamps) in Puerto Rico. You can find a summary of the legislation, released by Shelby’s office, here.