Lawmakers overwhelming passed a disaster relief bill Thursday for Puerto Rico and states that saw damage from hurricanes and wild fires.
The House provided $36.5 billion in aid to states and other areas that sustained damage from hurricanes Harvey and Maria. It passed in a 353-69 vote — with resistance coming from GOP lawmakers who blanched at the price tag.
The bill includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund and $16 billion to address national flood insurance program debt. It also provided $1.27 billion for food assistance for Puerto Rico.
Many Republicans argued that the high cost of relief should be offset in other places.
“It is only a matter of time before the U.S. faces the next catastrophe. But for some reason, the government does not budget with this in mind,” Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican, wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial.
Rep. David Schweikert, an Arizona Republican member of the House Freedom Caucus, mirrored much of his colleague’s comments, telling reporters that bailing out the Flood Insurance program without reforms amounted to throwing good money after bad.
“Emergency is emergency, but there are programs we’re going to have to deal [with], bite the bullet, and I think flood insurance is one of them, where you also have a moral hazard in its current design,” he said.
The total amount of emergency funding passed since September when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma began pelting southern states is approaching $42 billion, which is nearly 6 percent of the most recent annual deficit.
The Trump administration, for its part, provided Puerto Rico with tens of millions of dollars in September to help the small American territory rebuild crucial infrastructure that Hurricane Maria destroyed.
The Federal Highway Administration will immediately begin disbursing $40 million in emergency relief funds to Puerto Rico to help rebuild roads and bridges. Officials made the request early Thursday morning, and it was immediately approved.
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