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Senate moves to almost double the size of Hurricane Harvey emergency relief bill

Published: Thursday, September 07, 2017 @ 5:59 AM

With flood waters from Hurricane Harvey still receding along the Texas Gulf Coast, and Hurricane Irma now taking aim at Florida and the southeast coast, Senate Republicans are moving to add $7.4 billion in federal housing money to a nearly $8 billion package of federal disaster relief, to replenish accounts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which lawmakers said would run out of money in coming days.

The extra housing money would make the total disaster aid package over $15 billion; the Governor of Texas has said his state needs over $100 billion in federal aid for Hurricane Harvey relief, and none of that includes money to deal with Irma.

"This funding will serve as an initial first step towards helping Texans begin the process of rebuilding," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

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The new money proposed in the Senate would be targeted for "disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster declared in 2017" - meaning that the resources could be used for either work in the aftermath of Harvey, Irma, or other major disasters.

The language was unveiled late Wednesday night, hours after President Donald Trump stunned fellow Republicans by siding with Democrats over a short term increase in the federal debt limit; the bill includes that debt limit extension, and temporarily funds government operations.

The funding and debt limit plan would run out on December 8.

Some lawmakers had said this week that they worried - especially with Hurricane Irma already causing problems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands - that more than the $7.4 billion House-passed package was going to be needed - and that was heard first thing Thursday morning on the floor of the Senate.

"I want the Senate to be forewarned, that this $15 billion package, this is only temporary," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), as he made clear that disaster needs from a possible strike by Hurricane Irma would require more Congressional action to ensure that FEMA has enough aid resources.

"It will probably only take us to mid-October at the most," Nelson added.

A vote on the Harvey bill was expected Thursday afternoon.

If the bill is changed by the Senate, it would go back to the House for further action.

The House approved the initial Harvey aid plan Wednesday on a vote of 419-3.

You can read the text of the Senate amendment to the Harvey aid bill.

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