Disasters and Emergencies

Senate Approves $36.5 Billion Aid Package as Hurricane Costs Mount

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Final passage of the measure comes on top of a $15.3 billion disaster measure that passed in September, bringing the total tab to more than $50 billion as deficits rise and Republicans push a $1.5 trillion tax cut. The Treasury Department said on Friday that the budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 grew by $80 billion, to $666 billion. The deficit also edged higher as a share of the economy, rising to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product from 3.2 percent the year before.

Lawmakers from Texas and Florida have already submitted requests for additional aid to help the recovery efforts in those states, adding up to tens of billions of dollars.

And politicians from states hit hard by the storms are signaling impatience. Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, tried unsuccessfully to add $3 billion to the latest aid package to help farmers who lost crops in the hurricanes, especially citrus growers.

“They need our help, and they need it now,” Mr. Nelson said.

The measure approved on Tuesday is intended in part to prop up the National Flood Insurance Program, which is facing an influx of claims from this year’s hurricanes. The program was already deep in debt to the Treasury, and it has now reached its $30.4 billion borrowing limit, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The bill approved by the Senate erases $16 billion owed by the flood insurance program, but it does not include broader changes to the program that could make it more sustainable.

Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, had warned against what it called a “taxpayer bailout of a failed, big-government program,” and it urged senators to vote against the bill.

Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, said the flood insurance program was “the triumph of good intentions over sound public policy,” and he lamented that the bill would wipe away debt owed by the program, “no questions asked.”

“Instead of helping the victims of these disasters through responsible aid paired with lasting reform,” Mr. Lee said, “Congress has rushed to its favorite so-called solution: billions of dollars in new spending with little accountability or meaningful oversight.”

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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