Posted: 3:49 pm Thursday, October 12th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
The U.S. House on Thursday approved a second batch of federal disaster assistance to help victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, sending the Senate a package that included almost $19 billion for FEMA’s disaster relief fund, $16 billion to help pay out claims from the federal flood insurance program, and extra money that could be funneled to help U.S. territories in the Caribbean.
“This legislation provides vital recovery funds to my home state of Florida, as well as Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and California, where wildfires remain ablaze,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
“Florida has gotten hit rather hard,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who like others from the state, wanted a chance to add extra relief funds, especially for agricultural interests in Florida that saw damage from Hurricane Irma.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott made the same appeal for extra farm aid in a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, but GOP leaders in the House brought the hurricane relief measure to the floor under a procedure that allowed for no amendments; any more specific agricultural aid for the state could still be added on in the Senate.
Florida lawmakers have already requested $27 billion in specific funding for the state; officials from Texas have asked for almost $19 billion.
House votes 353-69 for $36.5 billion in hurricane and wildfire aid. All 69 "No" votes from Republicans pic.twitter.com/Ych312ULYR
— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) October 12, 2017
Some of the Republicans voting against the aid bill expressed frustration as well with the process, as they want Congress to find ways to save money from other areas in the budget, to offset this disaster spending.
“We never got to vote on offsets because of the broken House process,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) said of the cumbersome House budget process. “That’s the problem.”
On the other side, lawmakers who supported the extra money said this aid package didn’t do enough.
“We are going to need a lot more help in the coming months, and I know we can count on this House, this Congress to make that happen,” said Delegate Jenniffer Gonzalez, who represents Puerto Rico in the U.S. House.
“22 days after the storm hit, nearly 85 percent of our population remains without power, 44 percent without running water,” Gonzalez added on the House floor.
“Our tourism economy is gone,” said Stacey Plaskett, the delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We will miss this entire year at the very least,” as she asked that Congress direct more aid from Medicaid to her U.S. territory.
Currently on Puerto Rico, per status.pr:
Electricity restored: 17%
Water restored: 64%
Grocery stores open: 86.84%
— Puerto Rico Recovery (@pr_recovery) October 12, 2017
The vote on extra hurricane disaster aid came several hours after President Trump seemingly suggested that there would be a limit on how long the U.S. Government would continue to aid Puerto Rico, in the wake of severe damage from Hurricane Maria.
“Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes,” the President tweeted, once again noting the fiscal troubles of the island’s government.
…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
Asked about the tweets, the President’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, told reporters in the White House briefing room this afternoon that the goal is certainly to get FEMA and the military out as soon as possible.
“They’re not going to be there forever and the whole point is to start to work yourself out of a job and transition to the rebuilding process,” Kelly said.
But Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed outrage about the message coming from the President, arguing that Mr. Trump has not said anything similar about recovery efforts in Texas and Florida.