- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Senate voted Tuesday to move forward on a relief package to aid states and territories ravaged by hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters over the past two years.

GOP leaders announced a $13.45 billion package just before the vote, making good on a promise to return to the issue after it was excluded from spending talks earlier this year.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, said the legislation is the product of “months” of bipartisan discussions.

“Millions of Americans are hurting as a result of natural disasters that occurred last year and are currently ongoing,” Mr. Shelby said.

In particular, his bill adds $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by hurricanes in 2017. That money had been a key demand of Democrats.

Mr. Shelby said his package also provides “critical relief” for states like Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas that are experiencing ongoing flooding.

It also provides more than $3 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to try to mitigate crop-related losses from recent natural disasters, and includes close to $500 million for forest restoration programs.

Still, House Democrats — who approved a $14.2 billion package in January — are opposed.

The bill “does not adequately address disaster relief and recovery in Puerto Rico and the territories,” said Evan Hollender, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, New York Democrat.

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