WASHINGTON – The U.S. House passed a comprehensive natural disaster aid package Monday evening that provides $19.1 billion for wildfire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake and flood relief.
Among the funds are $3 billion for farmers and ranchers to help recover from crop and livestock losses, $720 million for the U.S. Forest Service for wildfire activities and $128 million for the National Park Service to repair damaged public lands. The bill now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk before becoming law.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, voted for the bill and wrote in an email to The Durango Herald that it will help the Forest Service recoup funds it spent fighting recent wildfires.
“Of significance to Colorado is the $720 million that the Forest Service will receive to cover the cost of ‘fire-borrowing’ that occurred in 2018,” Tipton said. “A delay in fire-borrowing payments could have prevented the Forest Service from preparing for and responding to crises in the 2019 fire season. It’s critical that we don’t unnecessarily strain local and state resources due to federal inaction.”
Before passing the House 354-58 – Republicans accounted for all the no votes – the bill faced numerous delays. Democrats and the GOP sparred over how much aid to send to Puerto Rico as it continues to recover from two 2017 hurricanes. In the end, the bill will provide $909 million for the island territory in the form of food stamps and community development grants.
Trump had urged Congress to include emergency aid for the southwestern border in the package. The request nearly stymied the bill before the Senate dropped the border security funding and approved the bill 85-8 on May 23.
The aid package met one last hurdle when three House Republicans, including Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, blocked its passage. Had Roy not objected, the bill would have become law through a process called unanimous consent, which is used when Congress is not in session. When Roy objected on May 24, many members of Congress had already left Capitol Hill for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.
“I am here today primarily because if I do not object, Congress will have passed into law a bill that spends $19 billion of taxpayer money without members of Congress being present,” Roy said on the House floor. “Secondly, it’s a bill that includes nothing to address the clear national emergency and humanitarian crisis we face at our southern border.”
Also, on Monday, the House approved the National Landslide Preparedness Act, which would create a federal program to identify and make 3D maps of landslide hazards. The bill now heads to the Senate.
James Marshall is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.