U.S. Sens. Scott and Rubio of FL want disaster relief dollars decoupled from Ukraine funding

At issue is whether Congress wants to continue providing funds to the Ukraine war

By: - August 30, 2023 5:38 pm

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida. Credit: Wikipedia.

When the U.S. Senate reconvenes next week, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott says he’ll introduce legislation to ensure that disaster relief dollars are fully funded to help pay for damage from Hurricane Idalia — and not be linked to military funding for Ukraine.

The proposed linking of funds for Ukraine with disaster relief has angered Scott along with his GOP Senate colleague Marco Rubio.

“We’ve had enough with Washington playing politics and demand that Congress does what’s right for American families, starting with ensuring our federal government has all the resources it needs to show up after disasters, now and in the future,“ Scott said in a press release issued Tuesday.

Rubio expressed similar sentiments when talking with Fox News on Wednesday.

“No matter what you think about Ukraine funding, those things should never be one for the other,” he said. “When it comes to taking care of Americans that have been harmed, that should be the priority. I hope the White House backs off of that position.”

FEMA has projected at least a $4 billion deficit with the disaster relief fund. The Biden administration in August proposed a supplemental package to Congress, including $12 million for disaster relief to pay for recent natural disasters like the fire in Maui and now the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. But in the same spending package, the president sought more than $24 billion in additional funding for Ukraine’s military needs in their battle against Russia.

While Democrats have consistently supported funding the military effort in Ukraine, the GOP has seen more fissures in their ranks.

In May, 11 Republicans in the U.S. Senate opposed Ukraine funding, and last month, 70 House Republicans voted in favor of an amendment to the annual defense bill that would have cut off all U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

There are also indications that the public is showing less enthusiasm for continuing aid for Ukraine in their war with Russia.

In a CNN poll conducted by SSRS earlier this month, 55% of Americans said the Congress should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine vs. 45% who say Congress should continue to authorize such funding.

Rubio introduced his own legislation back in June to ensure that FEMA would have sufficient financial resources to deal with natural disasters. Scott co-sponsored the bill. Rubio says that he’s been “sounding the alarm” regarding the link to Ukraine funding for two weeks now, and said that for the administration to insist that disaster relief could only be funded in the same bill with additional funds for Ukraine’s military’s efforts against Russia would be “unacceptable.”

“These guys have been playing this game for awhile,” Rubio told Fox. “Senator Scott will try a unanimous consent agreement next week. I’ll try to get a vote on the package we’ve all put together. Some Democrat is probably going to stand up and say, ‘I object unless you include the Ukraine funding.’”

Scott is calling the bill he’ll introduce the Federal Disaster Relief Act, which will combine Rubio’s bill with two other pieces of legislation that he has introduced.

One of those bills, the Block Grant Assistance Act, would provide authority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue block grants to agriculture producers affected by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole from 2022. The other bill, the Hurricane Tax Relief Act, would provide “enhanced disaster casualty tax relief” to families in 51 Florida counties and Puerto Rico impacted by hurricanes Ian, Nicole and Fiona.

The supplemental funding request that Biden unveiled earlier this month also includes $60 million to cover pay increases for firefighters, and $3.9 billion to address border and migration issues.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.