The Obama-era Build Back Better bill, which directs FEMA to give faster payments to Americans affected by disasters, was passed in the Senate on Wednesday morning, the first legislation to be done under the Trump administration.
It will allow people to get their rebuilding assistance within 30 days instead of 60, but because of a provision that gives property owners more time to protest grant denials, the bill could still reduce FEMA’s annual budget from $16bn to $7.5bn.
Biden passes Obama-era ‘build back better’ bill in Senate Read more
“This legislation is a good step, but it is just a first step,” said Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, in a statement. “Both Republicans and Democrats know the fix for rebuilding our nation – so they can get back to work and deal with the real challenges facing our country – is just simple: rebuild smarter and adapt to a changing climate.”
Because of a change in legislation the debt ceiling bill passed last week, the bill wasn’t presented to Congress for a vote prior to the chamber’s holiday recess. On Tuesday, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a stripped-down bill to try to pass the Build Back Better bill before Congress broke.
The bill would have allowed homeowners to challenge FEMA’s decisions to deny grants. It also would have allowed people to receive grants for items they had not damaged before the disaster, such as furniture and minor home repairs. Without those reforms, some national security experts have argued that the legislation would divert money from the existing American citizens rebuild for potential attack on US soil.
Christopher Whipple, a history professor at Princeton University and co-author of an upcoming book, Kill the Messenger: The Hunt for Gary Webb, the “Frontline” journalist who reported on CIA involvement in the Contra cocaine trade, said a few of the bills being voted on are compromised measures.
“Congress is feeling its way,” he said. “There are a number of measures that don’t meet the current criteria of being passed.”
The Build Back Better bill is an example of that. The original iteration of the bill, introduced in the Senate by Chuck Schumer in 2012, stated that FEMA would pay for every eligible property damaged in a disaster. The revisions say FEMA will only pay for the money it spent fighting the homeowner’s appeal.
Schumer didn’t return a request for comment.
Republican Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate energy and natural resources committee, said: “There is nothing in this bill that would change the overall borrowing authority of the United States.”