Congress at Stalemate Over Hurricane Michael Disaster Funds

So far, not one bill introduced to help with Hurricane Michael relief has passed through Congress. Not even a tax relief bill to help people claim their losses on their taxes.

by Katie Landeck, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. / April 11, 2019

(TNS) — Take a guess, after six months, how much money has Congress allocated for Hurricane Michael disaster relief?

Keep in mind, it's the third most powerful storm to ever hit the United States in terms of pressure. It was just 2 mph short of being a Category 5 storm. It killed 49 people. It's produced more than 15 million cubic yards of debris in just Bay County, compared to the 2.5 million cubic yards of debris Hurricane Irma created across 50 counties. The estimated insured losses are more than $6 billion. And it wiped out a major military installation, Tyndall Air Force Base.

What did you guess?

$0.

That's how much Congress has allocated.

So far, not one bill introduced to help with Hurricane Michael relief has passed through Congress. Not a tax relief bill to help people claim their losses on their taxes. Not a supplemental disaster funding bill to fund repairs such as rebuilding the base.

Not a one.

It's not for lack of trying either. Versions of bills to pass both tax relief and supplemental aid have been introduced multiple times, only to die in the partisan gridlock that has consumed Washington.

The latest battle over disaster funding played out last week. Democrats wanted more funding for Puerto Rico in a supplemental bill that would have applied to multiple major disasters. Republicans didn't agree. In the end, everybody lost.

"This impasse over disaster relief funding would go away in an instant if only Republicans would do one thing: Stand up to President Donald Trump to make sure every community across America affected by natural disasters gets the funding they deserve," Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-NY, tweeted after a speech on the Senate floor last week asking that funding be restored for Puerto Rico.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, had a different take.

"Playing politics with disaster funding may score Senate Democrats points with their far-left base for 'resisting' the president, but it comes at the expense of real people and communities in Florida," he said in a statement. "It has been six months since Hurricane Michael struck Florida's Panhandle, and we are up against a very real deadline to deliver much-needed resources. The time for political games and rhetoric is over. It's time to act."

Another set of disaster relief bills are currently working their way through the House of Representatives, with Rep. Neal Dunn pushing forward both tax relief and supplemental funding.

"Tomorrow will be the six-month anniversary of Hurricane Michael. Six with absolutely no disaster supplemental funding. No serious action on the part of Congress, except political farce," Dunn said in a heated speech on the floor of Congress on Tuesday. "Floridians are tough, but they need help and they deserve it. ... It's time we take action."

If funding isn't passed soon, repair work on Tyndall Air Force Base, which is estimated to make up a third of Bay County's economy, will grind to a halt on May 1, hurting both the local area and military readiness. Also in jeopardy are repairs to the local VA medical facilities, the U.S Coast Guard facility repairs and federal dollars for the schools, according to Rubio's office.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development also has not allocated funding to the area.

At this point, the only federal funding the area has seen is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of April 1, the agency had pumped $1.1 billion into the area, though more than half was in the form of loans from the Small Business Administration. That money includes $31 million for debris removal and other protective measures, $140 million in individual assistance, $206 million in national flood insurance claims paid and $629 million in low-interest SBA disaster loans, that have to be paid back.

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©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

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