Bil­lions in dis­as­ter aid okayed, but fu­ture bat­tles likely

Tampa Bay Times - - Nation & World -

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.

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