Tuesday 20 February 2018

US lawmakers approve major Hurricane Harvey aid package

Harvey caused huge amounts of damage (AP)
Harvey caused huge amounts of damage (AP)

The US Congress has passed a 7.9 billion dollar (£6bn) aid package to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Republicans and Democrats united behind help for victims of the storm as an even more powerful hurricane bore down on Florida.

The 419 to 3 vote sent the aid package - likely to be the first of several - to the Senate in the hope of sending the bill to President Donald Trump before dwindling disaster reserves run out at the end of this week.

John Culberson, whose Houston district was slammed by Harvey, promised that "help is on the way".

Senate Republicans hope to add an increase to the government's borrowing limit but Democrats announced on Wednesday that they only support a short-term increase.

Some New York Democrats reminded Texas Republicans of their votes opposing Superstorm Sandy aid five years ago.

"The scale of the tragedy is unimaginable. But in the midst of all this, and all the suffering, it really reflects the American character, how people from all over the country stepped up to help Houstonians recover from this," Mr Culberson said.

The first instalment in Harvey aid is to handle the immediate emergency needs and replenish Federal Emergency Management Agency reserves in advance of Hurricane Irma, which is barrelling through the Caribbean toward Florida.

"This is a chance to be your brother's keeper," said Houston Democrat Al Green. "This is chance for the unity that we express when we're before the cameras to manifest itself in the votes that we cast here in Congress."

"My friends and neighbours' homes were completely flattened by Hurricane Harvey's winds. Businesses were destroyed," said Republican Blake Farenthold. "Fema will be out of money in just two or three days if we don't pass this."

Politics quickly intruded as Democratic leaders insisted they would back the measure in the Senate only if it were linked to a short-term increase in the nation's borrowing limit, not the longer-term hike that Republicans and the Trump administration want.

"What you did to us during Superstorm Sandy should not stand, should not be done to any other people, any place in the country," said Democrat Eliot Engel. "We're one country, we're Americans. We need to help those who need help."

In the Senate, Republican leaders want to link a long-term increase in the debt limit - until 2019 - to the Harvey aid, but that plan faces opposition from conservatives and thus will need Democratic votes.

AP

Press Association

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