Disaster aid appears to finally be coming for survivors of hurricanes in the Southeast and wildfires in the West.
The Senate agreed on a $90 billion aid package Wednesday to help communities still reeling from natural disasters in Texas, Florida, California, and, of course, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. If the Senate votes to pass the bill Thursday, the bipartisan agreement would be the largest since the disasters hit last year. The House also needs to vote on the bill by the end of the week, which includes funding to keep the government running for the next two years.
These funds would allocate $23.5 billion to FEMA’s primary fund for recovery and repair programs, $28 billion to rebuild housing and infrastructure, $2.3 billion for agriculture like Florida’s citrus industry, and another $2 billion toward boosting the power grid in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, reports USA TODAY.
“Finally, we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” said Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, speaking about Puerto Rico at the hearing. “American citizens have been living without power. Schools and businesses are closed. The federal government has been dragging their feet to help them. People have been waiting and they’ve been suffering.”
However, the budget didn’t include a wildfire revision that would change the way Congress funds wildfire suppression to more easily avoid the disastrous wildfires the U.S. saw last year. The idea is to create a new fund that would treat wildfires like natural disasters, reports E&E News. Right now, the Forest Service has to pull from non-fire accounts to handle the rising costs associated with wildfires, which reduces the money available to prevent these fires in the first place.
Natural disaster costs have been racking up across the board, not just with wildfires. Last year proved to be the most expensive year on record for natural disasters at $308 billion. Congress attempted to find money for these communities last year, but political disputes kept them from making big strides. In Houston, thousands of Hurricane Harvey survivors are still displaced and in need of aid.
And while this disaster package totals $90 billion, state leaders in Texas alone know they’ll need a whopping $121 billion to properly rebuild. That’s not even including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands where entire communities are left with roofless homes covered with blue tarp.