Statement On The Disaster Supplemental Appropriations Bill

Statement Of Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
On The Disaster Supplemental Appropriations Bill
Senate Floor

Thursday, April 4, 2019

It is unfortunate that the Senate reached an impasse on the emergency disaster supplemental appropriations bills. For months, I repeatedly urged Senate Republican leadership to take up and pass the House bill, H.R. 268, and for nearly 3 months they did nothing. During those three months, American communities suffered, and new disasters struck the Midwest and Southeast. The new criticism from Republican leadership became that Democrats pushing for more comprehensive aid to Puerto Rico in H.R. 268 must not care about these American communities affected by more recent disasters.

But I would remind the chamber that it was Republican leadership who rejected my amendment to H.R. 268 that would have accommodated these communities. I would also remind the chamber that the Trump Administration has not asked for one dime for Hurricanes Michael and Florence, the Alabama tornadoes, or the Midwest flooding. To the Trump administration, it’s like they never happened.

I have always stood with victims of disaster. When my own state of Vermont was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene, members of this body came to me not as Republicans or Democrats, but as concerned American citizens looking to help. And today, this Vermonter is here to stand with all of the American communities affected by recent natural disasters.

I have not given up on finding a path forward. Today, Leader Schumer and I offered a substitute that would provide $2.5 billion in new funding to address the needs of communities affected by 2019 disasters, such as flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes in Alabama.

Our amendment would also accommodate the needs of the American citizens of Puerto Rico and other territories by including increased funding for the Community Development Block Grant and grants to help rebuild damaged water systems. It also includes Medicaid funding for the Northern Mariana Islands and cost match waiver for the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa.

And finally, it mandates that HUD speed up the release of billions in previously appropriated CDBG funding the Trump administration has unnecessarily withheld from disaster stricken communities in Puerto Rico, Texas, Louisiana, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, California, Missouri and Georgia.

In total, this amendment would add $3.2 billion to the bill, of which only $462 million is for Puerto Rico. The rest is for the Midwest floods, Alabama tornado, Florida, California, Georgia and other states.

I am disappointed that Senate Republicans have once again objected to this critical assistance. We are the United States of America. We cannot pick and choose which American citizens to help in times of crisis. The White House may refer to Puerto Rico as “that country” that “only takes from the USA.” But Puerto Rico is part of the USA. These are our fellow American citizens. We in the Senate must be better than that. We must stand with all American citizens in times of crisis.

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