House panel approves $36.5 billion for disaster relief


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee has approved $36.5 billion in emergency funding for relief and recovery from the recent devastating hurricanes and wildfires, a spokeswoman for the committee’s chairman said late on Tuesday.

The bill includes $7 billion more than the White House had sought last week and nearly $6 billion more for the Federal Emergency Management Agency than the administration’s request.

The committee’s bill includes $576.6 million for wildfire efforts, $16 billion for the National Flood Insurance program and a provision enabling low-income Puerto Ricans to receive emergency nutrition assistance, said Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, the committee chairman.

It was not immediately clear when the bill would move to the floor to be voted on by the entire House.

The United States has been battered by a series of hurricanes in the Caribbean, Texas and Florida and wildfires in California.

Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

President Donald Trump has also asked Congress to approve a $4.9 billion government loan to help Puerto Rico pay some of its bills in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

A road is seen washed away by Hurricane Maria, outside the municipality of Barranquitas outside San Juan, Puerto Rico October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The bill includes up to $4.9 billion in loans for local governments struggling to provide services after recent hurricanes.

The loans are intended to be used by U.S. territories, which would include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Leaders of both major political parties have applauded the bill.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday that emergency funds should “not be siphoned off for bondholder payments,” which echoes the administration’s stance.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott

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