Talks over a $13.5 billion disaster relief bill have hit a “standstill,” according to a top Senate Republican involved in the negotiations and are not likely to be resolved ahead of a two-week congressional recess that starts at the end of the week.
That means victims of floods, hurricanes, drought and other natural disasters will have to wait even longer to get needed aid.
“We made a substantial offer over the weekend that the Democrats rejected,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama who chairs the Appropriations Committee. “Right now, we’re at a standstill.”
Shelby added that it is “possible but not probable” an agreement could be reached before the recess.
At issue, are disagreements between President Donald Trump, backed by his Republican allies on the Hill, and congressional Democrats over how much funding to provide for Midwestern states suffering after from massive floods and whether to add more money for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
Trump opposes more money for the territory, outside of $600 million for food stamps, in part, because he argues the government there hasn’t spent the money it’s been allocated already.
The Republican offer would make it easier for Puerto Rico to tap Community Development Block Grant funds available to it and didn’t include controversial policy riders related to abortion and border wall funding in the House-passed Democratic bill, according to a person familiar with it.
A senior Democratic aide explained why they opposed the GOP proposal.
“The Republican ‘offer’ does not guarantee any new funding for Puerto Rico or ensure the already-allocated funding will ever actually be released by the administration and be disbursed to Puerto Rico in the first place. Instead, the Republican plan inflates a pot of funding that all disasters can take from and says Puerto Rico is eligible only after it spends the funding that the administration is refusing to release,” the aide said. The “Republican offer also does not include funding to help rebuild damaged water systems in Puerto Rico.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York and the leader of his party in the chamber, expressed frustration that some Republicans are fighting for aid to their states but won’t support it for Puerto Rico and said the Democratic-controlled House will never go along with a plan that doesn’t include the territory.
“If they want aid for other areas, they ought to treat every part of America fairly,” he said at a news conference.