05.23.19

Statement Of Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Bipartisan, Bicameral Disaster Supplemental

Even though it may be five months late, today is a good day for the United States Congress, for the American people, and for the nation.

I have said from the beginning that any disaster supplemental that passes this chamber cannot pick and choose which American citizens to help in their time of need.  The American community bands together to support one another when disaster strikes, regardless of where we are from, our politics, or our beliefs.  That is the American way, and it is the role of Congress to make sure it is done. 

So I am glad to stand on the Senate Floor today with my dear friend, the Senator from Alabama and the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to support the bipartisan, bicameral disaster supplemental appropriations bill. 

This bill will provide long overdue aid to the people of California, Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Hawaii, Texas, Missouri, Alabama and Puerto Rico just to name a few.  Some of these people – these American citizens – have been trying to put their lives back together for nearly two years, since August of 2017.

It provides $19.1 billion dollars to help communities in these states and territories to rebuild stronger than they were before.  It includes more than $2.4 billion in Community Development Block Grants, more than $1.6 billion for the Federal Highway Administration to rebuild roads and bridges, and more than $3 billion to support our nation’s farmers who lost their crops and livestock in the storms.  And it provides more than $3 billion to rebuild our military’s storm-damaged infrastructure. 

It has been no secret that how to help the American citizens of Puerto Rico has been at the heart of our dispute on disaster aid.  But I am pleased to report that our bill provides much-needed assistance to these Americans, including $605 million for the Nutrition Assistance Program and $304 million in Community Development Block Grants to help the island meet FEMA match requirements.

Importantly, it also includes language requiring FEMA to rebuild the island stronger and better than it was before, to help mitigate damage from future storms.  And it unlocks billions of dollars Congress has previously appropriated for Puerto Rico, and other communities across the country that the Trump administration has held back in the Treasury.

This is a strong, bipartisan agreement.  It reflects that we are one nation, and in times of need all Americans can count on each other.  And I encourage every senator to support it. 

But our work is not done.  We still must address the humanitarian crisis at our southern border and help those fleeing from violence and persecution in their own countries.  The President has requested $4.5 billion.  Some of this money is badly needed, and there is no dispute about that.  But everyone in this chamber knows that these are difficult issues, made all the more difficult given this President’s rhetoric and extreme policies.  Difficult issues take time.  We have been working night and day to strike a compromise on the President’s request, and we are close, but we are not there yet.  When we return, I hope we can continue negotiating a bipartisan agreement to provide additional humanitarian assistance.

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