Senate passes 6.9 billion in disaster aid

The following is a press release from the office of Louisiana Senator Mary L. Landrieu:

WASHINGTON – The United States Senate today passed $6.9 billion in emergency disaster relief to aid the victims of past and numerous recent natural disasters. Sen. Landrieu, Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, guided the bill through the Senate this week, culminating with the Senate approving the bill by a vote of 62 – 37. Differences between Senate and House versions of the bill must be worked out before it goes to President Obama.  To watch video of Sen. Landrieu talking about the importance of the disaster funding in the bill, click here.

Included in the $5.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) is $500 million as an emergency supplemental appropriation for FY 2011 and $4.6 billion for FY 2012. The $4.6 billion for FY 2012 is in addition to the $1.8 billion that the president requested in his February budget request.

"There are times and there are places for politics. Aid for disaster victims is not one of them. Passing this bill sends a strong and unequivocal—yet simple—message to our communities, states and fellow Americans: Help is on the way," Sen. Landrieu said. "This bill will provide help to Minot, North Dakota; New York, Nebraska, Vermont, and rest of the east coast; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Joplin, Missouri and many other places across the country. If we did not vote for this, the DRF will be empty. The money in this bill gives us not only the necessary funding for disaster relief, but it also provides an additional $1.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and other programs that are essential to rebuilding."

Sen. Landrieu managed the bill throughout the week and spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday passionately arguing for its passage on the Senate floor. At a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, senators from other disaster-ravaged states joined Sen. Landrieu to pressure Senate Republicans to end needless procedural delays.

This bill comes on the heels of several natural disasters that have struck the U.S. this year, including record flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and other rivers in the Midwest and the Northeast, devastating tornados in the South, wildfires in the South and West, and now Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Since Jan. 1, President Obama has issued disaster declarations in 48 states.  As of Sept. 15, the balance in the Disaster Relief Fund is $351 million.  In just the last two weeks, FEMA has obligated $365 million out of the fund for Hurricane Irene and other disasters. That means FEMA is coming dangerously close to running out of money before Sept. 30.

If Congress were to approve only the president's February request of $1.8 billion for FY 2012, and not the $4.6 billion budget amendment he sent to Congress last week, the Disaster Relief Fund would be exhausted again in December.

More than $387 million of disaster recovery projects are already on hold in 40 states.  The number of disaster recovery projects on hold will grow every day until the additional funding is provided.

Since 2001, FEMA has had to stop critical disaster recovery projects six times due to lack of funding.  That means the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, roads and public utilities that our communities rely on are needlessly delayed.  The current disaster recovery suspension will remain in place until Congress approves additional funding.

Since February, Sen. Landrieu has called on the Administration to request additional funding for disaster relief to address known needs related to the recovery of past disasters, as well as new needs based on emerging disasters.  Sen. Landrieu sent letters to President Obama requesting additional funding on: