Senate Approves $36.5 Billion Aid Package Costs of Hurricanes, Widlfires Continue to Rise

A man climbed down a ladder on a broken bridge spanning the Vivi River in Utuado, Puerto Rico, last week. The bridge was washed away during Hurricane Maria, and makeshift ladders are the only way to get across.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

As the costs of this year’s hurricanes continue to rise, the Senate gave final approval on Tuesday to a $36.5 billion disaster relief package that includes a bailout of the financially troubled National Flood Insurance Program.

The Senate voted 82 to 17 to approve the bill.

The package is the second to clear Congress in as many months, and lawmakers say that much more money will still be needed as the nation grapples with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“This is a multistep process,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on Monday. He said the Trump administration had committed to proposing another, “more comprehensive” disaster relief package in the weeks to come.

The House approved the $36.5 billion package earlier this month. In addition to providing hurricane and wildfire funding, it would help Puerto Rico’s government avoid running out of cash in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Final passage of the measure comes on top of a $15.3 billion disaster measure that passed in September, bringing the total tab to more than $50 billion as deficits rise and Republicans push a $1.5 trillion tax cut. The Treasury Department said on Friday that the budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 grew by $80 billion, to $666 billion. The deficit also edged higher as a share of the economy, rising to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product from 3.2 percent the year before.

Lawmakers from Texas and Florida have already submitted requests for additional aid to help the recovery efforts in those states, adding up to tens of billions of dollars.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Thomas Kaplan