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By Rebecca Shabad and Frank Thorp V
WASHINGTON — Senators reached a bipartisan deal Thursday that would provide more than $19 billion in disaster aid funding to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, following months of negotiation.
Leaving a closed-door Senate Republican lunch, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters that an agreement had been reached.
The two said that they had spoken to President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon about the parameters of the deal, which excludes the $4.5 billion in border funding that the White House and the Republicans kept demanding. Trump signed off, according to Shelby.
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday afternoon before leaving Washington for a weeklong Memorial Day recess. This comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned earlier in the day that the upper chamber would remain in session this week until they passed a disaster aid bill.
According to a breakdown of the bill from Shelby’s office, it would provide about $900 million to Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. That money would go toward nutrition assistance and a community development block grant, both of which were key Democratic priorities.
The bill also includes a provision that would require the Trump administration to make almost $9 billion in previously withheld aid available to Puerto Rico, according to a summary of the bill provided by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Funding for Puerto Rico had long been a sticking point in negotiations because Trump was opposed to giving the territory more aid. In April, he false claimed on Twitter that “Puerto Rico got 91 billion dollars for the hurricane” when the federal government had only allocated $40 billion for the island’s recovery and most of it hasn’t reached it yet.
“Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess — nothing works,” Trump also tweeted in April.
The House would have to vote on the bill before it’s sent to Trump’s desk. House lawmakers have already left for their recess but they could pass it quickly through unanimous consent.
“Ever since the House’s first vote on disaster relief on January 16, congressional Democrats have worked to negotiate a disaster relief package that provides assistance for all Americans, including in Puerto Rico,” said Evan Hollander, communications director for House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “…If the Senate passes the legislation today, House Democrats support clearing it through the House as soon as possible.”