White House seeks emergency funds for Midwest disaster relief, Key Bridge in Maryland 

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is asking Congress to approve billions in emergency funding for domestic priorities it says are essential, including border security, emergency preparedness and child care.

The $4 billion in new emergency spending requested Friday calls on lawmakers to approve more funding than was included in the dozen annual government funding bills passed earlier this year.

White House budget director Shalanda Young wrote in a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., that the supplemental request builds on a similar ask that the Biden administration sent to the Hill last October.

“I write today to reiterate the October request and submit revised estimates of an additional $4 billion for certain disaster needs, including funding to help respond to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, the devastating fires on Maui last summer, and tornado survivors in Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and throughout the Midwest,” Young wrote.

“Particularly as we enter what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is describing as an ‘extraordinary’ hurricane season, the Administration urges prompt congressional action on this request, including for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), to ensure that we can uphold the Federal Government’s responsibility to both rebuild from past disasters and respond to future events,” Young added.

Problems ahead

The request is unlikely to gain full approval by the Republican-controlled House and may face headwinds in the Democratic-controlled Senate as well.

Leaders in both chambers of Congress are already working on the 12 annual funding bills for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, and are increasingly focused on campaigning ahead of the November elections.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, released a statement saying she looked forward to working with the other leaders on the committee “in the coming weeks to ensure we deliver this much-needed relief.”

“Families who’ve lost homes, workers who’ve lost their livelihoods, and communities who are working to rebuild are counting on Congress to step up and provide the help they need — and it’s critical we do just that,” Murray wrote.

A senior administration official, speaking on background on a call with reporters, didn’t set a specific timeline for Congress to approve the supplemental request, but said the Biden administration hopes they do so “as swiftly as possible.”

“And we are going to work with the Hill and obviously many, I think, legislators on the Hill recognize that urgency to achieve that goal,” the official said.

Bridge rebuild, road repair

The updated spending request includes an additional $3.1 billion for the Department of Transportation to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, after a cargo ship barreled into the bridge earlier this year, destroying the structure and killing six construction workers.

The transportation funding would also go toward repairing “other Federal-aid highways and federally-owned roads across the Nation that have been seriously damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic failures from external causes,” according to a summary of the request.

The U.S. Coast Guard would receive $79.5 million to address costs related to the destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, including the response and recovery efforts as well as its salvage operation.

The Army Corps of Engineers would receive $33 million, should Congress approve the request. That funding would go toward replenishing accounts that were used to remove parts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and to help re-open the shipping channel.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development would get an additional $700 million for disaster relief and other recovery needs that stemmed from major disaster declarations in 2023 as well as this year.

An additional $25 million would go to the Labor Department for the Dislocated Worker National Reserve “to make awards for reconstruction and recovery needs caused by multiple large disasters, including typhoons, wildfires, and hurricanes, as well as cleanup and recovery efforts following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge,” according to a summary of the request.

Increase from earlier request

The original $56 billion domestic supplemental request, released in October, included $23.5 billion for disaster response needs for several federal departments and agencies, including the Small Business Administration and FEMA.

The October proposal, which was re-requested on Friday alongside the new spending proposals, included $16 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services for child care subsidies.

It included $6 billion for the Federal Communication Commission “to extend free and discounted high-speed internet through the Affordable Connectivity Program.”

An additional $1.55 billion would address fentanyl abuse through HHS’ opioid response grants, while slightly more than $1 billion would go toward the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Peace program.

Another $220 million was requested for the USDA and Department of Interior to avoid cuts to wildland firefighter salaries.

The October request for emergency assistance for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, which Congress did later act on, also included $13.6 billion for border security efforts.

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