U.S. Senate passes $19.1 billion in disaster relief, no border aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved $19.1 billion in aid to help Americans rebound from a string of natural disasters, and President Donald Trump supported it even though it did not include the funds he requested to address a migrant surge at the southern U.S. border.

FILE PHOTO: Roads are closed following heavy floods near Monroe, Nebraska, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk/File Photo

The Senate, which has a thin Republican majority, approved the measure 85-8. Democrats, who have a majority in the House of Representatives, said a vote could soon follow in that chamber.

The measure would assist victims of disasters across the country over the last two years, from hurricanes in the Southeast to Midwestern flooding and California wildfires. It includes funds to repair highways and other infrastructure and help farmers cover crop losses.

It also includes about $1.4 billion in aid for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey. Trump had vehemently opposed sending more aid to the Caribbean island that was devastated by a hurricane in 2017.

The bill does not include $4.5 billion in emergency funds that Trump had requested earlier this month to address a Central American migrant surge at the U.S. border with Mexico.

But Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said: “We’ll get the immigration money later, according to everybody. I have to take care of my farmers with disaster relief … I didn’t want to hold that up any longer. So, the answer is I totally support it.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats said they would work on addressing humanitarian needs at the southern border after lawmakers return early in June from a recess. “Some of this money is badly needed, and there’s no dispute about that,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the appropriations committee.

Most House members have left town for the recess, but the bill could still be approved in the chamber Friday under a procedure known as “unanimous consent,” a Democratic leadership aide said. If any lawmaker objects, the bill will have to wait for a regular floor vote after the House returns June 4.

Democrats said the bill took much longer to pass than it should have, in part because of Trump’s interventions.

“Each time the president messes in, things get messed up,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, referring to repeated criticism from Trump of the proposed aid for Puerto Rico and Trump’s border aid request. “So I suggested this morning that we just do disaster aid and no border, and that’s what we’re doing. … We got all we wanted for Puerto Rico.”

The Puerto Rico money included $600 million in nutrition assistance and over $300 million in Community Development Block Grant funding. The aid bill also extends the National Flood Insurance Program, lawmakers said.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; writing by Doina Chiacu; editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish

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