Update from Washington, D.C.
Congress Approves Long-Awaited Disaster Aid; House Appropriators Continue to Make Progress on FY2020 Spending Bills
June 6, 2019
On June 3, the House overwhelmingly voted to approve a long-awaited disaster-aid package (HR 2157) that will provide additional federal assistance for recovery efforts associated with a number of major disasters that occurred in 2018 and 2019. The $19.1 billion emergency spending legislation, which the Senate cleared on May 23, now heads to President Trump, who has indicated that he will sign it into law. It should be noted that more than 80 major disaster declarations have been issued since the beginning of 2018, including for wildfires in California, as well as Hurricanes Florence and Michael, Typhoons Yutu and Mangkhut, and Hawaii’s Kilauea volcanic eruption.
Below are several highlights of the disaster-aid bill:
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- The legislation provides $2.43 billion in grant funding through the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) account. The funds can be used for disaster relief, long-term recovery, infrastructure restoration, housing, and economic revitalization. Of this amount, $431 million is designated to address the unmet infrastructure needs stemming from disasters that occurred in 2017, although approximately $331 million is designated for Hurricane Maria grantees. The remaining $100 million is available to assist wildfire victims, among others. A previous iteration of the bill included $150 million to specifically address unmet needs from the 2017 wildfires.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- HR 2157 will provide $1.65 billion for FHWA’s Emergency Relief (ER) program to repair damaged roads.
U.S. Department of Agriculture/U.S. Forest Service
- Crop Losses – The disaster supplemental will provide $3 billion for expenses related to crop and livestock losses. The legislation stipulates that assistance could be provided in the form of block grants to states. However, producers receiving disaster payments would be required to purchase crop insurance for the next two crop years.
- Wildland Fire Management – HR 2157 will provide over $720 million for wildland fire management, although the funding must be used to repay other accounts from which the Forest Service drew funding to cover shortfalls for wildfire suppression during fiscal year 2018.
- Emergency Conservation Program – The bill will provide $558 million to repair and rehabilitate damage to farmlands.
- Emergency Forest Restoration Program – The measure includes $480 million in assistance to help restore private forests following a disaster.
- Emergency Watershed Protection Program – The supplemental includes $435 million to help local communities relieve imminent threats to life and property that could impair a watershed. Funding can be used for projects such as removing debris, rebuilding damaged drainage facilities, repairing levees and structures, etc.
- Rural Community Facilities Program – The package will provide $150 million to a program that funds the development of essential community facilities in rural areas.
- Hazardous Fuels Management Activities – Included in the measure is $21 million to reduce hazardous fuels/vegetation in federal forests.
- Hemp – HR 2157 includes a provision that will allow hemp to be covered by crop insurance starting in 2020. While similar language was inserted in the 2018 Farm Bill, this is an added measure to provide clarity to farmers ahead of the 2020 planting season.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- The disaster-aid bill will provide $1 billion to the Army Corps for necessary expenses to prepare for flood, hurricane, and other natural disasters, as well as to support emergency operations and repairs. In addition, the measures makes available $908 million to dredge Federal navigation projects damaged by a natural disaster.
Environmental Protection Agency
- Nearly $350 million is designated for capitalization grants to state revolving loan funds (Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and Clean Water State Revolving Funds) that support local water infrastructure projects.
Department of Health and Human Services
- Head Start – The disaster package will provide $55 million in grants to local organizations that provide comprehensive early childhood education services to children and their families.
- Child Care and Development Block Grant – The measure will provide $30 million for a program that supports child care for low-income families.
- Community Services Block Grant – A total of $25 million will be available for the Community Services Block Grant, which allows counties to design and implement anti-poverty programs tailored to an individual community’s needs.
U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA)
- The supplemental spending bill includes $600 million in EDA assistance to address economic challenges in disaster-impacted areas.
Department of Labor
- The legislation includes $50 million in funding to assist dislocated workers impacted by a natural disaster.
Bureau of Reclamation
- A total of $15.5 million is designated for fire remediation and suppression related to wildfires that occurred in 2017 and 2018.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
- The legislation extends the National Flood Insurance Program, which was set to expire on June 14, through the end of the current fiscal year. This is the 12th temporary extension in two years.
- The disaster supplemental bars the use of Defense Department and military construction funds for any purpose that is not specifically described in the measure, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations Update
The House Appropriations Committee on June 4 approved two of its fiscal year 2020 spending bills: Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) and Agriculture. The panel has now successfully advanced ten (of the 12) annual funding measures. The remaining two bills – Homeland Security and Financial Services – were approved by their respective subcommittees this week and are expected to receive full committee consideration in short order. It should be noted that the Financial Services legislation includes a policy rider that would provide protections for banks that provide financial services to cannabis businesses.
For his part, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has indicated that several bills will move as a package starting next week, with the goal of completing consideration of all 12 measures by the Independence Day recess. The first minibus is expected to include: Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services, Energy-Water, State-Foreign Operations, and the Legislative Branch.
Across Capitol Hill, the Republican leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee have indicated that they will not take up any fiscal year 2020 spending legislation until lawmakers reach a deal on a new budgetary framework. GOP leaders are expected to meet with Trump administration officials next week to work out a budget agreement that would raise the discretionary spending caps put in place by the Budget Control Act and increase the federal debt limit.