The U.S. Congress early Friday approved a massive budget agreement that includes almost $90 billion in disaster relief that will send more money to Texas to aid Hurricane Harvey recovery.
The approval came despite late controversy over the bill adding to the federal deficit, steered by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and echoed by several congressmen.
Paul blocked a vote on the bill late Thursday, fighting against raising the debt ceiling, which led to a brief government shutdown before the bill was passed by both chambers early Friday.
“I could not vote against this bill only to return home to a district where tens of thousands of families are still without livable homes, where small businesses are struggling and where infrastructure is in dire need of repair,” U.S. Rep. Randy Weber said.
The bill includes the third round of federal disaster relief that has been discussed since the U.S. House of Representatives voted 251-169 in December 2017 to approve an $81 billion disaster aid package.
Legislators from districts affected by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and other disasters pushed for the bill, claiming the need for aid was still acute.
But that relief bill wasn’t approved by the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz during a visit to Galveston County in January said he hoped a third disaster relief bill would be passed before the money got entangled in Washington policy battles, while U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said the bill would likely become tied to funding the government.
Friday’s $89.3 billion in disaster relief includes $15 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct flood mitigation projects and about $28 billion to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Community Development Block Grants, among other items.
The relief will also include $25 million for programs funded under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a spokeswoman with Weber’s office said.
Because of the 1987 federal law classifying students displaced because of natural disasters as homeless, school districts are required to transport students that might live outside the district’s geographic range.
The $25 million will allow districts to apply for reimbursement for those transportation costs, officials said.
State and local leaders, such as Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, praised the relief package Friday.
“Texas’ recovery from Hurricane Harvey continues, and today’s passage of disaster funding in Congress will help the state rebuild from this storm and mitigate and prepare for the next one.”
Friday’s approval is the third round of federal disaster relief.
Congress in October 2017 approved a $36 billion disaster relief bill that followed on the heels of a $15 billion measure that passed in September 2017, Cruz said.
Weber Friday said more relief funds could be on the table in future months.
“I told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that I’m not sure this is enough to get it all done,” Weber said. “I said there is infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt as well. And McConnell said there may be more after this. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”