Senate lawmakers on Thursday overwhelmingly voted in support of a $19.1 billion disaster aid package after months-long delays that stalled critical federal funding in aid for farmers and parts of the country still recovering from a brutal onslaught of natural disasters over the last two years.
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The final tally was 85-8.
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, secured the president’s commitment to support the multi-billion dollar disaster package even though it doesn’t include additional funding for the U.S.-Mexico border, which the White House had requested.
“We took it all out. We’re going to try to push that separately when we come back,” Shelby told reporters. “It’s a good deal. This disaster issue has played on for months and months. Let’s hope we can move it out of the Senate today.”
The Senate voted late Thursday just before lawmakers left town for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.
Congress has not passed a broad disaster relief package since February 2018.
“This legislation has already taken far too long to deliver,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at a news conference Tuesday. “It is past time to put partisan politics aside, move past any tangential questions and secure a final agreement that can become law.”
The Senate’s top Democrat – Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York – blamed the delay on Republicans.
“It’s good that Republicans finally came to their senses and realized that Puerto Rico and other disaster impacted areas deserve to be treated fairly and that extraneous provisions shouldn’t be added to the disaster relief package,” he said in a statement.
“It is a shame that Republicans allowed President Trump to—not once, but twice—add extraneous things to this bill, as it could have been approved much sooner. We hope this does not happen again,” he added.
The compromise measure would provide disaster relief for hard-hit states ravaged by tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires in various parts of the country and is supported by Congressional Democrats and Republicans.
The measure also includes $600 million in nutrition assistance and $304 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for Puerto Rico – which were key Democratic priorities. More than 1 million residents lost their food stamp payments after the program’s emergency funding expired in March.
The disaster bill has been on hold since last year, largely due to the president’s opposition to sending more money to Puerto Rico. Trump has spent months complaining about fiscal mismanagement by Puerto Rico’s leaders.
The legislation includes billions of dollars in additional funding for states in the Midwest and the South that have experienced catastrophic flooding and tornadoes in 2019. Finally, the bill also includes an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., applauded the agreement.
“Chairman Lowey is pleased that President Trump and Republicans have agreed to bipartisan, comprehensive disaster relief legislation that will meet urgent needs across the country,” said Evan Hollander, a spokesman for Lowey. “If the Senate passes the legislation today, House Democrats support clearing it through the House as soon as possible.”
The measure must clear the House next before it heads to the president’s desk for his signature.
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