Senators Working Hard on Disaster Bill – Future Still Unclear

According the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, talks to move a much needed disaster package through the Senate hit a snag Monday over funding for Puerto Rico. This is the same funding problem that kept the bill’s provisions out of the spending bill that reopened the Government last month.

The disaster program which would bring help to many farmers in the Southeast, has been the subject of a tug-o-war between the President and Democrats that want additional spending for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The President is convinced that the money that has already been promised is being mis-managed and has refused to add additional spending to the relief in the region. According to Senator Isakson, over $40Billion has been allocated to help Puerto Rico with more than half not spent yet.

When Congress passed the bill that reopened the government earlier this year, one of the last minute fights was over spending for the disaster program. The President refused to sign a bill that had any additional spending for the island and the programs were dropped from the bill with the expectation it would be revisited. Since then, President Trump had agreed to extending the emergency food stamp benefits for Puerto Rico but nothing more. Two weeks ago, when a group of Southeastern Farmer and Ginner Leadership were in DC, we were told that a bill would be voted on by the Senate this week. That bill was expected to contain the $600+ million for the nutrition benefits but unsure if the Democrats would push for more. If not, it had a pretty good chance of passing. Yesterday, apparently, Democrats dug their heels in and are requiring additional spending to pass the House.

A cloture vote is scheduled for this afternoon (Tuesday) but it is not clear what bill they will be voting cloture on. From what I’ve read, a disaster program has a very tough row-to-hoe in order to get passed by the end of March when the nutrition benefits for the Island run out and when many farmers will be needing to settle up 2018 and prepare for 2019. More to come.