Midwest members praise text of Senate disaster supplemental appropriations bill

Republican senators from the midwestern states of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa commended the text of a $13.45 billion emergency funding bill unveiled this week by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee for the supplemental funds their states would receive to help residents recover and rebuild from recent catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters.

“In light of the urgent need for disaster relief, I hope the House and Senate will be able to quickly come together and get a bill to the president’s desk,” said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), referring to the work both chambers have ahead of them in reconciling their disaster relief supplemental funding bills.

The supplemental appropriations bill was introduced on March 26 as Senate Amendment (SA) 201 by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in the form of a substitute to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019, H.R. 268.

H.R. 268, introduced on Jan. 8, received U.S. House approval on Jan. 16 in a 237-187 vote and has since been under consideration in the U.S. Senate, which also is reviewing its version of the supplemental appropriations bill.  

According to the text of SA 201, the bill would provide billions in supplemental funds to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA); Commerce; Defense; Education; Health and Human Services; Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Homeland Security; the Interior; Labor; Transportation (DOT); and Veterans Affairs, among others.

Each department and federal agency then would provide government funds to states and territories wrecked by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, and other such events during 2017 and 2018.

The legislation also would expand eligibility in certain instances for states in the Midwest and the South that this year experienced catastrophic flooding and tornadoes, according to Sen. Shelby, who on Tuesday released the text of the bill.

“Millions of Americans are hurting as a result of natural disasters that occurred last year and are currently ongoing,” Sen. Shelby said. “This legislation is the product of months of bipartisan discussions and contains important input from both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress.”

Flooding relief would be provided for states such as Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.  

In Missouri, for example, Sen. Blunt said this year’s ongoing floods in his home state have “left many family farms completely devastated.”

The updated bill would provide more than $3 billion for the USDA to repair damage to farmlands, rebuild infrastructure and rural community facilities, and provide assistance for crop losses, according to a summary of the bill.

Additionally, the proposal would provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with $35 million in investigations and $740 million for construction to study and build high-priority flood and storm damage reduction projects in states that were affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael, Typhoon Mangkhut, Super Typhoon Yutu and Tropical Storm Gita, according to the bill’s summary.  

The measure also would include $225 million in the Mississippi River and Tributaries account and $245 million in the operation and maintenance account to repair damages to the Corps’ projects from natural disasters, the summary says.

“I appreciate Chairman Shelby’s partnership in making sure Missouri has access to funds to respond to the extensive flood damage in our state,” said Sen. Blunt.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) also applauded the bill, which she said would help her constituents deal with the effects of flooding in Nebraska.

“Nebraskans are facing the worst natural disaster in our state’s history and that’s why for the past week and a half I’ve worked hard to add Nebraska to this disaster relief bill,” said Sen. Fischer. “The legislation released today includes a down payment to help Nebraska ag producers and communities rebuild and recover from the catastrophic damage.”

Sen. Fischer called the bill “a good start” and said lawmakers still “have a long road ahead and I’m going to continue to fight for Nebraska every step of the way.”

Another state hit hard by flooding was Iowa.

“Tragically, the flooding and destruction I witnessed last week back home is as bad as I’ve ever seen,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said. “I am committed to doing everything in my power to make sure Iowans have every bit of help they need. The expanded eligibility for assistance from this disaster relief package is welcome news and will get more desperately needed aid to Iowans.”

One of the largest proposed supplemental funding provisions in the bill would be for Farm Disaster Assistance. Senate appropriators would allot more than $3 billion for the USDA Office of the Secretary to cover producers’ net exposure to losses stemming from 2018 and 2019 natural disasters, according to the summary, which said the amount specifically would help cover blueberry and peach crop losses resulting from freezes, as well as help producers impacted by Tropical Storm Cindy.

Other big ticket items in the proposed supplemental funding bill would be the proposed $1.06 billion for HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Grants to cover 2018 disasters, and the proposed $1.6 billion for DOT’s Federal-aid Highways emergency relief program.

The amended proposal also would provide assistance for veterans’ health facilities and military construction projects; emergency funds for critical timber, watershed and wastewater infrastructure needs; and resources to restore highways, aviation facilities and other transit projects, among numerous other provisions.

Additionally, the measure includes an extra $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico, which Sen. Shelby noted is a key Democratic priority in the bill.  

“I hope my Democratic colleagues will join us in providing the relief these people need and not stand in the way just because it does not include every single provision they wanted,” Sen. Shelby added.