Leahy Supports, And Senate Passes, Emergency Relief For Victims Of Hurricane Harvey

. . . Package Also Raises Debt Ceiling And Funds The Federal Government, Staving Off Washington-Manufactured Shutdown Crisis For Three Months

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Sept. 7, 2016) – The Senate Thursday passed an emergency funding measure to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, by a vote of 80-17.  The measure was approved just a day before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has warned that disaster relief funds would be exhausted.  The package also raised the debt ceiling and funded the government through Dec. 8, staving off another Washington-manufactured crisis.  Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) spoke on the Senate Floor in support of the appropriations bill and voted for it.

The $15.25 billion emergency supplemental package includes $7.4 billion for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund and $450 million for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan Program.  In addition, the legislation provides $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for areas most affected by 2017 disasters.

You can read Leahy’s full Senate Floor remarks below:

Statement Of Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
on The Harvey Disaster Supplemental

Senate Floor
September 7, 2017

Mr. President, I strongly support the disaster relief package that is before us today.  It will provide much needed assistance to the thousands of families and communities who were devastated by Hurricane Harvey.  It provides a short-term increase to the debt limit to ensure that the U.S. government has access to the resources required to address these pressing needs.  It funds the government with a continuing resolution through December 8, enabling Congress to work to complete the Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations bills.  This is a responsible approach to ensure that we address the needs of our Nation at this pivotal time.   

It was heart-wrenching to watch the devastation march through Texas as Hurricane Harvey made landfall, only to see it then turn toward Louisiana.  And now Hurricane Irma has struck Puerto Rico and continues on its path toward Florida and the East Coast.  Hurricanes Jose and Katia are swirling in the Atlantic, threatening our coast. My fellow Vermonters and I are all too familiar with these images of destruction.  It was only six years ago that Tropical Storm Irene tore through the Green Mountain State, leaving a wound we are still trying to heal today. 

A disaster of this magnitude demands the full support of the United States Government, and I am glad that this disaster relief package is before us today.  If we do not act, and act fast, FEMA will exhaust its disaster relief funds by the end of this week.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate stood by my side in 2011 and in the following years to help Vermont rebuild after Irene, and I will stand in support of Texans and Louisianans now.  This is only a fraction of what we will need to provide to help devastated communities recover and rebuild from these storms.  It will require years of Federal support, and our commitment cannot fade. 

We live in a world where “100-year storms” seem to have become annual occurrences. We must invest in technology, conservation and infrastructure that will mitigate further damage and make our communities more resilient.  This is what we did after Irene and Superstorm Sandy, and we should do that now. 

Our ability to respond to crises such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, however, depends not just on emergency assistance.  Each year, in the annual appropriations bills, we fund programs that help us prevent and respond to severe weather events, invest in the necessary infrastructure to keep us safe when they occur, and promote coastal resiliency.  The National Weather Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Sea Grant Program, the Flood Map Modernization Program, Watershed Flood Prevention Operations, Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, Community Development Block Grants, and State and Local First Responder grants—just to name a few—are all critical to these efforts.  President Trump proposed deep cuts in these critical investment programs.  We cannot and should not fund these programs on a shoestring budget. 

With passage of this bill, Congress has until December 8 to complete its work on the Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations bills.  I thank Chairman Cochran for his leadership and cooperation in advancing these bills.  It is through these bills that we can fund these important priorities.  I have been asking since March to begin bipartisan budget negotiations to establish responsible topline funding levels for both defense and non-defense programs based on parity so we can complete the appropriations process.  The current budget caps will not allow us to produce 12 responsible bills.  Absent a budget deal, deep cuts are mandated by the Budget Control Act for BOTH defense and non-defense programs.  These negotiations must move forward with urgency.  Only once we get such an agreement can we finish our work for the American people. 

My heart goes out to all of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.   I will continue to fight for all necessary resources to ensure the safety of those in the path of these horrific storms and rebuild and repair the damage left in their wake. The Senate's amendment today is only the first step. It is one I support.

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667