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Senate passes $36.5B disaster relief spending bill

By Daniel Uria, Allen Cone and Danielle Haynes
Senate passes $36.5B disaster relief spending bill
Puerto Rico stands to benefit from a disaster relief bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday. Much of the island remains without power weeks after Hurricane Maria. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The Senate on Tuesday approved a $36.5 billion spending bill to provide relief for regions struck by recent hurricanes and wildfires.

The new bill provides relief to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires on the West Coast.

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It includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to hurricanes and wildfires in recent months. It also includes $16 billion to relieve debts from the National Flood Insurance Program, which some criticized as a "bailout."

It is now up to President Donald Trump to sign the bill.

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"The Senate remains committed to doing its part to support the ongoing hurricane relief efforts," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Monday ahead of the vote. "Victims of these hurricanes continue to count on our support."

It's the second relief bill of its kind after a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package was approved last month in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastation of the Texas coast.

Senators originally considered adding funds to the House bill, but the possibility of passing another appears more likely, The Hill reported.

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"I think so far what has been done has not been as much as we should do, so we're having a conversation with various members who come from the regions affected by Maria, by Irma, by Harvey, by wildfires, other natural disasters," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello met with lawmakers in Washington last week to say the island needs "equal treatment" in relief efforts. He pressed senators to pass the disaster bill and a nearly $5 billion funding package -- a loan President Donald Trump requested for the financially burdened government.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the bill is the "next step to the road to recovery" for disaster-affected areas, and called for bipartisan support.

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"Millions of Americans all over the country, the Americans in Puerto Rico, the Americans in the Virgin Islands, they need us to work together to help lift them up," he said. "This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue.

"This is who we are as a country -- we hold together."

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