6 months after Hurricane Michael, Congress deadlocked on aid

Half a year after Hurricane Michael decimated portions of Florida and Georgia, resulting in billions of dollars in damage to coastal communities and inland agricultural areas, efforts in Congress to bolster relief for those communities have ground to a halt, spurring growing frustration and even finger pointing at the White House by GOP lawmakers.

"To this day, OMB (the White House budget office) hasn't even submitted a request for disaster assistance," noted a visibly frustrated Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), as he said on the House floor Tuesday that calls for help 'to White House staff have gone unheeded.'

"And but for one tweet on April 1, it seems the President has moved on," Scott added, as the Georgia Republican recounted stories of how farmers in his state are facing economic ruin with no federal help.

The story is much the same next door in the Sunshine State.

"Floridians are tough, but they need help, they deserve help," said Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL), whose Florida Panhandle district took a direct hit from Michael on October 10, 2018.

Almost three months ago, the House approved $14.2 billion in disaster relief, but the bill has gone nowhere in the Senate, with the main sticking point being extra aid for Puerto Rico to deal with damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017, as the White House has opposed plans offered by Democrats to add more resources for the island.

And for the most part, the two parties have much different views on who is to blame for that disaster funding impasse.

"Democrats ought to be ashamed. They’re holding our farmers hostage right now for their own political gain," said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), a key ally in Congress of President Trump.

"Families in Florida, Puerto Rico, and all over the country need immediate disaster relief," said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). "But the GOP is holding up relief because they refuse to provide sufficient funding for Puerto Rico."

"I hope the folks back home will remember this when they go to the polls in November of 2020," said Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL), as he laid the blame squarely on Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

In the Senate, Democrats have offered a new $16.7 billion disaster aid package, funneling $462 million more to Puerto Rico, which so far has received over $11 billion in aid - not the figure of $91 billion cited by President Trump.

"The White House may refer to Puerto Rico as ‘that country’ that ‘only takes from the USA,'" said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). "But Puerto Rico is part of the USA."

But Republicans have shown no interest in the revised Democratic disaster relief plan, just as Democrats have refused to back a bill designed by the GOP - leaving the disaster relief package in legislative limbo.

With the House and Senate ready to go home for a two week break for Easter, if nothing happens on Wednesday, then the disaster relief impasse will most certainly last into May, impacting more than just those in Florida and Georgia.

Also in financial turmoil is Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, as the Pentagon says it needs up to $9 billion to make repairs there, and at Camp Lejeune for the Marines in North Carolina, all because of hurricane damage.

In order to pay for basic recovery work at Tyndall, the Air Force has already cut back on projects at military bases in 18 different states, as officials have said more cuts will be needed if Congress doesn't act on extra money for the Pentagon.

Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

About the Author

X