What’s Holding up a $19 Billion Disaster Aid Bill?

A $19 billion disaster aid bill has been circulating in Congress for weeks now, but America’s cities, towns and villages have yet to see any of the funds. Once signed, the bill would provide billions of dollars to help communities struggling to rebuild after a series of hurricanes, wildfires and destructive storms destroyed essential infrastructure. It also would have extended the National Flood Insurance Program until September 30. So, what happened?

Before Congress left town for the Memorial Day recess, the bill looked like it would pass. After last-minute negotiations between the White House and Senate leadership, the Senate finally agreed to the bill. But because it took them so long, the House had already departed Capitol Hill.

Procedurally, the House, while it was in pro forma session during the recess, could have agreed to the Senate-passed bill if there were no objections. However, it only takes one member of the House, who is present on the floor, to object and request a recorded vote count.

On Friday, May 24, 2019, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, was the lone member to object to the passage of the $19 billion disaster aid package. On Tuesday, May 28, the House once again tried to pass the legislation through unanimous consent, but this time Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, objected. The House once again tried to pass the legislation on Thursday, but Rep. John W. Rose, R-Tennessee. However, a separate two-week NFIP extension bill did pass.

A small group of conservative lawmakers objected to the bill’s passage under the House’s unanimous consent rules passage because they believe the bill needs to include funding for the border wall and they want a recorded vote on the bill.

The procedural block is putting the recovery efforts in cities, towns, and villages that have been hit the hardest by the recent disasters in jeopardy.  Without immediate federal support, the losses to the local economy, jobs, and population mean it will take these communities much to recover and rebuild.

Regrettably, the delay was avoidable if the Senate and House agreed long before leaving town, but ongoing partisanship is creating a real toll on local governments. From federal government shutdowns to a lack of progress on key legislative priorities such as infrastructure or failure to provide emergency assistance to help people recover from disasters –  it is inconceivable that Members of Congress have lost the ability to compromise and pass bills for the good of the country and the people they represent.

While the bill is expected to pass as soon as the House returns on Monday, there is very little that can be done to stop the few Representatives that are blocking its passage before that. Members of Congress should take an example from local elected officials who work in non-partisan ways and compromise to help build their economies, invest in their infrastructure and keep their constituents safe.

H.R. 2157 – Key highlights:

  • $2.43 billion for Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) to helps communities rebuild housing, businesses, and public infrastructure in the most impacted and distressed areas affected by major natural disasters.
  • $600 million for Economic Development Assistance grants to provide programs for flood mitigation, disaster relief, long-term recovery, and restoration of infrastructure in areas affected by major disasters in 2018 and 2019.
  • $1.65 billion for roads and bridges to reimburse states and territories for damage from natural disasters to roads and bridges in the National Highway System.
  • $1.993 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damages to Army Corps’ projects.
  • $3 billion for agricultural assistance for crop and livestock losses due to hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic activities, tornados, floods, snowstorms, or wildfires during 2018 and 2019.
  • $630 million for nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and America Samoa.
  • $720 million for wildland fire activities to repay non-fire accounts for fiscal year 2018 wildland fire activities.
  • $394.4 million for water quality and for State and Tribal Assistance Grants to assess post-disaster water quality conditions, replace damaged and destroyed monitoring equipment, and for states to inspect and clean up hazardous waste facilities.
  • $100 million for mental health to support behavioral health treatment, crisis counseling, helplines, and other related activities for individuals affected by recent natural disasters.
  • $165 million for education recovery services to meet the educational needs of students in areas affected by disasters.

About the Author: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the program director of public safety and crime prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.