$19.1 Billion in Disaster Aid Clears House at Last

Water rushes through the levee along the Arkansas River in Dardanelle, Ark., on Friday, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock. (Yell County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

WASHINTON (CN) – The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a long-stalled $19.1 billion disaster relief bill Monday, sending money to states hit by recent hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and other natural disasters.

The bill has been hung up in Congress as lawmakers struggled to negotiate an agreement that could get the support of both parties and a signature from President Donald Trump. Among the sticking points in the bill was additional aid to Puerto Rico, still recovering from Hurricane Maria which struck the island in 2017.  

The bill includes roughly $900 million for the territory, including for food stamps and other federal grants.

The White House sought to tack on $4.5 billion to spend along the southern border, but the request was rebuffed in Congress. The request did not include money for a border wall, but was primarily directed towards caring for people in federal custody at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lawmakers struck the bargain just before a recess for Memorial Day that ended on Monday, and Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, hailed the vote as a welcome end to the months-long process.

“While it has taken far too long, this bill delivers much needed assistance to American communities struck by recent natural disasters,” Lowey said on the House floor Monday.

House Democrats on three occasions tried to unanimously pass the bill while most representatives were out of town on the week-long Memorial Day recess, but Republicans objected each time, delaying action until Monday’s bipartisan vote. In addition to concerns about the bill’s lack of funding for the border wall, Republicans said the House should not agree to spend so much money without lawmakers having a chance to vote yes or no.

“The American people send their representatives to Washington to represent them, they deserve to see how we vote,” Representative Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who objected to the bill during the recess, said on the House floor Monday.

After clearing the Senate 85-8 on May 23, the House approved the package 354-58. Trump is expected to sign it.

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