Billions in disaster aid okayed, but future battles likely
WASHINGTON — The $36.5 billion relief package the House passed Thursday, 353-69, won’t be the last time Congress considers significant spending to address the natural disasters that ravaged parts of Florida, California, Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere.
Thursday’s debate was also a preview of some serious political griping that lies ahead on both sides of the aisle, and the complaints have the potential to interfere with future efforts to get aid to areas in need of assistance.
Florida and Texas officials sought additional funds for rebuilding efforts in their states that were not specifically included in this round of funding. Conservatives on Capitol Hill issued new calls for spending cuts to help pay for the assistance as well as more transparency about how the money is spent. And Democrats had their own set of grievances, calling for more money faster.
Thursday’s package, which the Senate could take up when it returns next week, includes money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s nearly empty Disaster Relief Fund and for the financially struggling National Flood Insurance Program. It also provided $576.5 million to fight wildfires in California and other Western states.
It did not include the $18.7 billion and $27 billion requests made by Texas and Florida lawmakers, respectively, for rebuilding efforts from hurricane damage.
About $15 billion in the bill could go to Texas, including $11 billion for flood insurance claims and about $4 billion for the FEMA disaster relief fund, according to the office of Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, a senior appropriations committee Democrat, said during the House floor debate that the bill “leaves much to be desired,” and her constituents “should not have to wait for the services they so desperately need.” The bill did not include funding for Small Business Administration loans for individuals whose businesses were damaged by the storms or money to help the state recoup major agricultural losses, she said.