Additional $36.5bn in Disaster Aid Likely to Be Approved

Despite concerns expressed by some lawmakers, the Senate is moving forward with a disaster relief package of $36.5 billion. It would give Puerto Rico the necessary infusion of cash and would prevent the federal flood insurance program from running out of money, which is exactly what lawmakers are worried about.

The vote which took place on Monday opened the way for a final vote on Tuesday. The measure includes $18.7 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which announced on Monday that over $500 million would be given as aid to Puerto Rico, over half of which would be directed toward restoring power and water services on the island.

However, requests from Texas and Florida’s congressional delegations for funds following hurricanes Harvey and Irma were denied. Senator Bill Nelson from Florida asked for $3 billion in agriculture assistance, but his request was rejected by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on grounds that funds for crop losses would be added in succeeding aid measures.

“I’m pretty disappointed with what the House sent over,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said. He later said he was promised that a disaster relief package for Texas and Florida would be issued next month. Should the bill be passed, it would be sent to the president for his signature.

The urgency in moving forward with the measure, without adding more money to it, was due to the fact that flood insurance reserves are running out. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy warned that if action is not taken, this would happen within days.

Almost $5 billion of the package could be directed towards helping the Puerto Rican government, as well as many of the island’s municipalities which are struggling with cash shortfalls. The island is still in desperate need of potable water, while the majority of people do not have electricity.

The measure also includes $577 million in disaster aid for those territories hit by wildfires.



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