The Senate’s $19 Billion Disaster Relief Package
By Bill Phan
On Thursday, May 23, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan disaster aid package that will allocate $19.1 billion to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, according to NBC News.
The funding came at a much needed time after being delayed by 6 months of negotiations. Vox reported that the “bomb cyclone” that took place in March cost $1.5 billion in damage in Nebraska alone, along with $214 million in damage in Iowa. In Puerto Rico, damages from Hurricane Maria reached over $8 billion. In California, the 2018 wildfire season caused more than $3.5 billion in damages.
The bill was passed with wide bipartisan support, approved by an 85-8 vote. While President Trump and the White House proposed $4.5 billion for border funding in the bill, the final version did not include it, according to Reuters. Additional delays came from the President’s reluctance to include funding for Puerto Rico, citing “regional government mismanaging funds,” according to Vox. This derailed talks in April for disaster relief, NPR reported. $900 million will go to Puerto Rico as aid, according to NBC.
All senators who voted “no” were Republicans. One of them, senator Mitt Romney, said that he objected to “rushing through billion-dollar spending bills at the 11th hour without sufficient debate,” according to The New York Times. He further elaborated that “it’s unfortunate that today’s spending bill, which was initially aimed at aiding Americans affected by natural disasters, has been loaded up with billions of dollars in unrelated pet projects,” The NYTimes also reported.
Along with the provided $900 billion, the bill also requires the executive branch to allocate an additional $9 billion in previously withheld aid to the Caribbean territory. The President agreed to sign the bill, while still touting a promise to send more funds towards the U.S.-Mexico border as a promise to his base leading up to the 2020 presidential election.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the border is becoming overwhelmed as migrants fleeing violence from Central America flood towards the border seeking asylum, according to Vox. Newsweek reported that six children have died in border control custody in six months.
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) talked to the President prior to the bill’s passage, and he successfully convinced the President to sign the bill once it reaches his desk, Reuters reported. Shelby's office also said that the bill will include funding for “disaster relief for farmers; development grants for rural communities; funds for wastewater infrastructure; and resources to restore highways, aviation facilities and other transit projects.”
The bill came near Congress’ Memorial Day recess. Its passage was facilitated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said “It’s past time, way past time to bring these negotiations to a close,” and that “They need to do this today. Because one way or another, the Senate is not leaving without taking action,” according to Politico.
While it swiftly passed the Senate, the House of Representatives has already left for its Memorial Day recess, and the bill is not expected to pass the House until June, Politico reported.