Trump Signs Disaster Relief Bill With Billions for Infrastructure
Update: Construction firms waiting for agencies to turn funds into contracts.
After a delay of several months, Congress has approved and President Trump has signed a package containing $19.1 billion in disaster-relief funds—more than half of which will go for infrastructure and related work—to help storm-battered regions of the U.S. rebuild from hurricanes, floods and other calamities.
The legislation, which Trump signed on June 6, received final congressional approval on three days earlier, when the House passed it on a 354-58 vote. The Senate had cleared the bill on May 23. [View bill summary here and text of final bill here.]
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted the focus on infrastructure in the bill, saying in a June 5 press briefing that the legislation could be viewed as “the first big, major Investment in infrastructure” this year.
Engineering and construction firms now are waiting to see when agencies will start turning the measure's funding allocations into actual contracts.
The construction-related funding in the package includes $3.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to do repairs and speed construction of flood- and hurricane-protection projects.
But it may take a while for the Corps to advertise contracts. John Doyle, special counsel for law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, "It's going to be, I would guess, a matter of months—hopefully, not too many."
Doyle, a former top Army civil works official, notes that, based on the Corps' past practice, it may move faster on contracts for the bill's $908 million for operation and maintenance than for its $740 million for construction projects.
The Dept. of Defense will receive $2.7 billion to repair and reconstruction facilities at military bases. Among the affected installations are Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Michael and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, heavily damaged by floods earlier this year.
NAVFAC to Help with Marine Corps Base Contracting
Also in line for funds are the Marine Corps’ Air Stations New River and Cherry Point and Base Camp Lejeune—all in North Carolina—struck by 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence.
The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) will be supporting the Marine Corps in contracting for the hurricane repair projects at Camp Lejeune and the New River and Cherry Point air stations, Mike Andrews, a spokesman for NAVFAC Atlantic, said via email on June 12.
Andrews added that "acquisition plans and schedules for the [Marine Corps] facilities are still being finalized." He said that before issuing solicitations for the projects, NAVFAC Atlantic, based in Norfolk, Va., plans to contact industry firms that might be interested in pursuing the contracts, but Andrews didn't have specifics yet on when the NAVFAC outreach might take place.
In the legislation, lawmakers also allocated $1.65 billion in emergency relief funds to the Federal Highway Administration, to reimburse states and territories for their post-storm repairs and other expenditures.
The legislation contains $2.4 billion for Housing and Urban Development Dept. community development disaster-relief block grants, which can go for various purposes, including housing and reconstructing infrastructure.
The Environmental Protection Agency will receive $349 million to improve resiliency of water systems in states affected by Florence, Michael and Typhoon Yutu, as well as 2018 wildfires and earthquakes. Of the EPA water total, $296 million will go for drinking water state revolving funds and $53 million for Clean Water state revolving funds.
Besides the funding, the legislation extends the National Flood Insurance Program for four months, to Sept. 30.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, “While it has taken far too long, this $19.1-billion bill includes a broad array of measures to help meet the urgent needs of disaster-stricken communities, from health care and nutritional assistance to social services and infrastructure repairs.”
The House had approved a $14.2-billion disaster-relief measure back in January but Senate Republican leaders didn’t take up that bill. On March 26, when the Midwest was hit by severe flooding, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) released a $13.5-billion version of the bill
Trump Objects to Puerto Rico Funds
President Trump had objected to the amount of funding in Democrats’ proposal for Puerto Rico, which suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
A bipartisan House and Senate agreement on a disaster-aid package finally was reached in May. That cleared the way for approval of the final version of the measure, which included HUD block grants and other funds for Puerto Rico.
After the Senate’s vote right before the Memorial Day break, Lowey and other House Democrats tried to move the bill through their chamber for final action three times during the recess. But passage during the break required unanimous agreement, and individual House Republicans blocked the measure’s approval on three occasions. Still, the bill’s House supporters carried the day.
The White House had sought to include $4.5 billion in the disaster-relief measure for additional shelter capacity along the U.S.-Mexico border and more personnel and other resources to deal with human trafficking and smuggling but drafters kept those provisions out of the final version.
The House Homeland Security Committee’s top Republican, Mike Rogers of Alabama, proposed an amendment to add the $4.5 billion, but the proposal was defeated on a 228-192 vote.
Story updated on 6/13/19 with comments, information about agencies' implementation of the measure