Congress passes disaster aid bill, funding for Nebraska included

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House has given final approval to a long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster aid bill. That clears the way for the measure to be sent to President Donald Trump for his expected signature.

The chamber approved the legislation 354-58. It's aimed at helping communities around the country bounce back from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires.

The bill languished for months over disputes including additional aid for Puerto Rico, which Trump opposed. He also wanted $4 billion to deal with migrants at the Southwest border, which will await a future bill. Democrats successfully included $300 million in Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants for Puerto Rico, in addition to $600 million in funds for the nutritional program on the island, which is still recovering from a pair of devastating earthquakes in 2017.

The final version of the disaster relief bill also includes a number of provisions that are of particular importance to Nebraska. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry said in a statement, “I worked with my colleagues to add funds to the military operations and maintenance account with the intentionality that as much as $120 million will go to the immediate cleanup and operational needs of Offutt Air Force Base. I also helped to provide additional funds for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program to restore scarred lands and infrastructure. This important relief for our nation's environmental security will reshape eroded stream banks, repair water control structures, fix levees, and restore conservation priorities,” Fortenberry added. Among other items, the legislation also provides funds for emergency conservation projects on farms, levee repairs, and highway reconstruction.

“Nebraskans are resilient, determined, and generous. This federal assistance will help accelerate the recovery work of communities and individuals and allow Nebraska to remain strong," said Fortenberry. "This is great news for Nebraskans and others who have been affected by natural disasters in recent months. Clearly, much more work and funding is necessary, but this legislation is a meaningful step forward as we continue the flood recovery efforts.”

Passage came as lawmakers returned from a 10-day recess. Three times during the break, conservative Republicans blocked passage under a special procedure Democrats employed that would have allowed approval if no one objected.

The Senate easily approved the measure last month.

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