WASHINGTON — Some lawmakers and advocates are sounding the alarm after Congress failed to include disaster relief aid in the compromise spending plan that President Donald Trump signed into law.
- Lawmakers: Compromise plan to avert shutdown excludes disaster aid
- Florida lawmakers say they'll continue to push for relief needed
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Florida lawmakers have tried to attach emergency money to the legislation three separate times, but the showdown over the shutdown overshadowed that effort.
It’s been a little over four months since Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle and now some worry the “Forgotten Coast” is living up to its name.
“We’re deeply disappointed about Hurricane Michael relief not being included in the package," said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida) 9th District.
The spending package approved by Congress and signed by the President didn’t include any disaster aid for victims of natural disasters last year.
“It simply was not there and that means many people are not getting the relief and recovery money that they need," said Peter Tyler, a senior policy analyst with the Project on Government Oversight.
Why exactly was it not included in the bill? Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has suggested congressional negotiators failed to include the aid so they can use it as leverage in the future. It's a move Tyler believes is a major mistake.
“Recent history has shown that Congress is unfortunately not in the habit of getting things done as quickly as we would like. We may have to see this happen through the normal appropriations process, which may mean the end of the year," Tyler said.
While the legislation didn’t include the disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Michael, it did include $12.6 billion to top off FEMA’s disaster relief fund.
“That is very useful, unfortunately typically it is not enough. When we have this many people still in need from last year’s disasters. We know there’s simply more need," Tyler said.
According to the Office of Insurance Regulation, more than 144,300 property insurance claims totaling almost $5.6 billion in damages have been filed since the storm hit. Florida lawmakers say they'll continue to push for the relief residents need.
“We don’t want to set a precedent whether it be for Central Florida, for Florida, throughout the nation, that months can go by without the federal government stepping up," Soto said.
Making this all even more complicated, FEMA Administrator Brock Long announced his resignation last week, which some experts believe could impact preparation for the next round of storms.
"It’s problematic," Tyler explained. "It’s not simply a question of can the current bureaucracy handle what is currently happening. Most likely there are some very good professional people. Where we really lose out is the kind of leadership we need for thinking about the next set of disasters. How we prepare better for those disasters we know will happen this coming year or the year after. That’s where not having leadership hurts us the most," he said.