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Disaster relief package worth $36.5 billion passed

By Sheetal Sukhija, Missouri State News
13 Oct 2017, 09:32 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - Despite concerns raised by some conservatives about the growing cost of disaster aid, the House on Thursday passed a legislation to provide $36.5 billion in aid for communities affected by recent hurricanes and wildfires.

In the 353-69 vote, all of the votes in opposition were from Republicans.

The package includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund.

The total package includes $4.9 billion for a disaster relief loan account, $16 billion to address national flood insurance program debt and $576.5 million for wildfire recovery efforts. 

It also provided $1.27 billion for disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico.

As the wildfires, that are expected to become the costliest in California history, rage on in the state’s wine country, the size of the bill too has grown. 

Even weeks after Hurricane Maria battered the island, over 80 percent of Puerto Rico still remains without power.

Meanwhile, major cities in Texas, Florida and other gulf states continue rebuilding efforts following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In the months to come, Congress is likely to approve billions of dollars in additional disaster aid.

On Thursday, Republicans who voted against the bill were protesting the increasing fiscal effects of disaster relief legislation.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the head of the Republican Study Committee, has said that supplemental disaster relief should be offset with spending cuts.

He said, “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. Instead, Congress waits for a crisis to happen and then hurries to pass an aid package afterward.”

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) meanwhile said the debts would add up regardless of how good the cause of disaster relief was.

He added, “If we don’t do something to begin to offset some of this, I think that in a matter of months or a matter of years people are going to look back at this Congress and say, ‘what were they thinking?’”

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), member of Sanford's fellow House Freedom Caucus has said that bailing out the Flood Insurance program without reforms amounted to throwing good money after bad.

He said, “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 added that federally-backed flood insurance results in payouts for people to rebuild property in flood-prone areas, only to have to file more claims when disaster strikes again.

He said, “At a certain point, say you’re not going to keep building the same property. You’ve got to have an honest conversation. The subsidizing of putting homes in harm’s way, it’s not really great for society."

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