CHN: Senate Reportedly Closer on Disaster Relief

Senate negotiators reportedly are coming close to reaching agreement on disaster aid to victims of hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, flooding and other natural disasters that have devastated both states and U.S. territories over the past several years. Funding is likely to rise from the $13 billion provided in a Senate bill introduced before the recess by Senator Perdue (R-GA) to more than $17 billion. Most of the increase is for Midwestern states with crop damage from flooding.

According to CQ, the latest GOP offer from Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) would add $431 million in new Community Development Block Grant funds, of which $304 million would be earmarked for Puerto Rico. But Puerto Rico would not be able to access the money until at least 75 percent of its previously approved grant money had been spent. The proposal also incorporates an amendment by Senator Cornyn (R-TX) to require HUD to release previously appropriated funds to Puerto Rico within 90 days, a provision which may be complicated by delays by the Office of Management and Budget in approving rules for the release of these funds. The proposal also allows Northern Mariana Islands officials to access Medicaid funding, another provision sought by advocates.  Guam and American Samoa also need additional Medicaid funding, but it is not clear at this point whether the new proposal will include these funds.

A vote in the Senate could occur as early as this week. Advocates are concerned that the longer it takes to approve the disaster aid, the greater the chance that the funding could be linked to $4.5 billion the Trump Administration has requested to deal with the influx of migrants along the U.S. southern border (see the related article in this Human Needs Report for more on this).

Meanwhile, the House plans to take up its own $17.2 billion disaster aid package this week.

Since January, the Senate has debated but failed to pass a comprehensive supplemental appropriations bill that would provide aid for the millions of families in need. Advocates, who rallied at the U.S. Capitol last week and embarked on a series of visits to Senate offices, say $17 billion is needed to help at least 16 states and territories that have suffered from catastrophic natural disasters beginning with Hurricane Harvey in August 2017: Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, California, Alaska, Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

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