Senate passes $36.5B disaster aid bill; Trump signature next

Senate passes $36.5B disaster aid bill; Trump signature next

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $36.5 billion emergency aid measure Tuesday to refill disaster accounts, provide a much-needed cash infusion to Puerto Rico, and bail out the federal flood insurance program.

The 82-17 vote sends the measure to the White House, where President Donald Trump is sure to sign it.

The measure provides $18.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rapidly dwindling accounts, and $16 billion so the flood insurance program can keep paying claims.

It brings the total approved by Congress during this fall’s hurricane season to more than $50 billion — and that’s before requests expected soon to cover damage to water and navigation projects, crops, public buildings and infrastructure, and to help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild.

“We’re still waiting for all the data to come in from Texas to determine what the need is,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, whose Gulf Coast district was slammed by Hurricane Harvey. “We’ve already done the supplementals to keep the agencies going, but the long-term stuff — public assistance, FEMA and housing — are the big questions. We still haven’t gotten all the numbers in from the state.”

The measure fails to address demands from the Florida and Texas delegations for more funding now, but lawmakers representing those states have won assurances from GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and Trump himself that more help is in the works.

“I want to stress that much, much more will be needed in my state,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “It’s not over and done with, and it’s not time to just move on.”

The current measure would permit FEMA to allocate up to $5 billion to assist Puerto Rico’s central government and various municipalities through a cash crisis. Maria has largely shut down the island’s economy and choked off tax revenues. The island’s electric grid has been mostly destroyed and more than one-fourth of Puerto Rico’s residents don’t have potable running water.

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