While U.S. senators look to continue their battle over the budget and immigration issues, they ought to stop for a moment and consider moving one piece of legislation forward — an $81 billion supplemental bill aimed at providing some relief to states hit by natural disasters.
The bill was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2017 and Texas representatives said ongoing failure to pass the legislation was hurting hurricane victims. No action has been taken on the funding since it was initially read on the Senate floor Jan. 4. Funds from the bill would go not only to Texas, but to Florida and Puerto Rico, which were struck by hurricanes Irma and Maria after Harvey came to Texas in August 2017.
On Friday, a bipartisan group of Texas representatives sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“We have constituents, who, after almost six months, remain in transitional housing and homes that lack weatherization as Texas remains in the grip of an unusually cold winter,” the letter stated. “It is past time for Congress to act.”
Federal emergency management officials last week said almost 800 families in Galveston County remain in hotels five months after Harvey either destroyed or damaged their homes.
The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Pete Olson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Randy Weber, Filemon Vela, Brian Babin, Gene Green, Blake Farenthold, Al Green, John Culberson, Michael McCaul, Ted Poe and Kevin Brady.
The congressional letter comes more than a week after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent their own letter asking for movement on the disaster funding bill.
“Its continued delay only exacerbates ongoing uncertainty in devastated areas,” the governors wrote. “Simply put, the communities devastated by these storms cannot be completely put back together until the federal government makes good on its promise to our citizens.”
But so far, it appears the representatives’ and governors’ pleas have fallen on deaf ears in the Senate.
Partisan politics, according to an Associated Press story last week, is one reason the bill is languishing in the Senate. Democrats like Schumer said the bill needs billions more for Puerto Rico, and he hasn’t been shy about saying delays in considering the legislation in the Senate give him leverage.
Republicans like Texas Sen. John Cornyn said Schumer is holding hurricane aid “hostage,” but McConnell hasn’t moved to force Schumer’s hand. Schumer, of New York, was a central force in advancing more than $60 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief six years ago and would be vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy if he actively blocked the current measure.
The final passage has been delayed by other issues in Washington, most recently, conflict over funding the government that led to a showdown and a promised deal on immigration reform. Another shutdown deadline looms this week and congressional battles are sure to ensue.
Senators should stop for moment and listen to not only their colleagues, but also to think about the people still recovering from the disasters.
• Dave Mathews