U.S. House Dems pass $28.6B in disaster aid for recovery from hurricanes, wildfires, floods

By: - September 21, 2021 10:14 pm

Climate-induced weather disasters include record wildfires in the West, record-setting heat waves and droughts, and aggressive hurricanes. Here, smoke plumes and hurricane clouds are visible at once. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats unveiled a short-term spending measure on Tuesday that would keep the federal government operating through Dec. 3 and provide $28.6 billion for costs related to recent natural disasters.

The bill was passed by the House on a party-line vote Tuesday night, 220-211. But it faces a battle in the evenly divided Senate, where Republicans are opposed to a provision raising the debt ceiling.

That disaster relief money is slightly more than the $24 billion that the Biden administration asked Congress to approve for extreme weather events during the last 18 months, including hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

A summary of the new legislation specifies that it would include aid to states related to Hurricanes Ida, Delta, Zeta, and Laura, wildfires, severe droughts and winter storms and other natural and major disasters declared in 2021 and prior years.

“The relief is provided to virtually all corners of the nation, because all corners of the nation have been suffering,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.), said during a Rules Committee meeting Tuesday morning.

“It helps to rebuild in the wake of these disasters and provides a lifeline to families struggling to get back on their feet.”

The spending bill also would lift the limit on federal borrowing through the end of 2022, which would prevent a default on the federal debt that otherwise will occur in the coming weeks.

The short-term funding measure is needed because Congress is unlikely to finish its work passing full-year spending bills before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.

But the measure’s fate is complicated by the multiple urgent components packaged into one piece of legislation. Republicans have said they will not support raising the debt ceiling, even though not doing so risks significant fiscal consequences.

Democrats had sought to push past that opposition by including the money needed to avoid a government shutdown, as well as billions in disaster relief that would help a number of states with Republican legislators in Congress.

The disaster relief money would be allocated through a broad range of agencies. It includes:

  • $10 billion for crop losses due to devastating storms in 2020 and 2021;
  • $2.6 billion to reimburse states for repairs to roads and bridges;
  • $1.2 billion in low-interest loans to businesses, homes and renters; and
  • $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants for restoration of housing and infrastructure, or economic revitalization.

It also includes funding for drought and disaster response related to Western wildfires, including fire remediation and a waiver on the annual pay cap for emergency wildland fire suppression workers at the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service.

Other money in the bill is intended to reduce the effects of future extreme weather events, through research on forecasting hurricanes and detecting wildfires, and the construction of flood and storm damage-reduction projects.

The Biden administration issued a statement of support on Tuesday night, saying the measure “would keep the federal government open, provide disaster relief, and avoid a catastrophic default so that the government can continue serving the American people without interruption as we continue to confront a pandemic, recover from and respond to disasters, and power an economic recovery. ”

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Florida Phoenix. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

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