Senate passes $90 billion disaster aid package

Feb 9 • 225 Views • View Comments

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Includes billions of dollars to help Florida
and Puerto Rico recover from 2017 hurricanes

The U.S. Senate today approved a massive two-year government spending bill that includes, among other things, $89.3 billion in disaster assistance to help areas, such as Florida and Puerto Rico, recover from the devastating 2017 hurricanes.

The bill provides $2.36 billion to help farmers in states affected by last year’s storms, including Florida’s citrus growers who sustained more than $760 million in losses due to Hurricane Irma. It also provides $2.7 billion for schools impacted by the storms, including schools in Florida that have experienced a sudden influx of students who evacuated from Puerto Rico; and $10.4 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use for construction projects in states impacted by the hurricanes, such as the Herbert Hoover Dike that helps protect residents and businesses on Lake Okeechobee.

Also included in the bill is $2 billion to help Puerto Rico rebuild its power grid, where nearly a third of the island still remains without power; and $4.8 billion to fund Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program for at least two years.

“This is a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from last summer’s devastating storms,” said U.S. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who has been calling on Congress for months to pass a disaster funding bill to help people in Florida and Puerto Rico recover. “For some, the funding in this bill is a light at the end of the tunnel and a major step forward in helping them return to the way life used to be before these storms.”

In addition to the nearly $90 billion in disaster assistance, the overall $300 billion budget agreement includes several other non-disaster related items Nelson pushed for, including:

$6 billion to help combat the opioid crisis.

$81 million to repair facilities damaged at NASA’s Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers during Hurricane Irma and Harvey. Nelson, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees NASA, requested the funding to repair numerous federal facilities affected by the storms, including NASA’s Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers.

$835 million for U.S. Coast Guard costs associated with Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Maria and Matthew. Nelson, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees the U.S Coast Guard, requested the funding to repair damaged Coast Guard facilities.

Closing Medicare’s prescription drug “donut hole” by 2019. Nelson got Senate leaders to include in the budget deal a provision to close the so-called Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” by 2019, instead of 2020, and shift more of the cost to drug makers, instead of Medicare. The move not only helps to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Florida’s seniors, it also saves taxpayers billions of dollars over ten years.

Reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 10 years. Nelson cosponsored legislation similar to a provision included in the budget deal to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which more than 370,000 children in Florida rely on.

Seniors’ Tax Simplification Act of 2017. Included in the budget bill is a provision identical to legislation Nelson filed with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in January 2017 (S. 157) to make it easier for seniors to file their taxes. The measure allows seniors to file a new tax form, similar to the 1040EZ, instead of the more complicated Form 1040 or Form 1040A they are currently required to use because of the income they earn through Social Security, capital gains and other retirement benefits, and the special tax credits they receive.

$7 billion to help fund Community Health Centers. Nelson cosponsored similar legislation included in the budget deal to provide an additional $7 billion for Community Health Centers. These health centers provide much-needed medical services to some of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals, including more than one million Floridians each year.

Repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Nelson cosponsored legislation that was included in the budget deal to repeal IPAB in its entirety.

 

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