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Congress finally passes $19 billion in disaster aid

Lawmakers approved the package Monday after months of delays.

Puerto Rico Faces Extensive Damage After Hurricane Maria
The damaged La Perla neighborhood in Puerto Rico is viewed from the air during recovery efforts four weeks after Hurricane Maria struck on October 18, 2017. 
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

More than a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, seven months since Hurricane Michael hit Florida, and two months since flooding destroyed towns in Iowa and Missouri, Congress has finally passed a $19.1 billion disaster aid package.

The funding, which took Congress roughly six months to approve, is set to provide much-needed relief to millions of people recovering from a devastating onslaught of tropical storms, tornadoes, wildfires, and flooding around the country. It includes money for infrastructure repairs, military base construction and assistance for farmers who’ve lost crops, among a slew of other recovery efforts.

The final package also marks a major win for Democrats: It contains $1.4 billion for Puerto Rico — including $600 million in nutrition assistance — and far surpasses the original funding President Donald Trump had wanted to provide for the US territory. Additional funding for border aid, another White House request, was also stripped out of this package and will be considered at a later date.

House Democrats on Monday lauded the movement on the bill, and expressed frustrations about the delays that had built up around it. For months, Trump’s resistance to offering Puerto Rico any additional aid beyond money for its food stamp program had stymied the process. In May, his border aid request further complicated the matter. And most recently, three House Republicans had held up the bill after the House, Senate, and White House had finally come to an agreement — all because they disagreed with the procedure that was being used to approve it.

At long last on Monday, Congress managed to approve the measure, which now heads to Trump’s desk for his signature.

While disaster aid has not been a partisan issue in the past, lawmakers’ recent handling of the subject doesn’t exactly bode well for future negotiations. As natural disasters grow increasingly more frequent, lawmakers’ squabbles seem to suggest that they aren’t prepared to deal with the fallout.

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