May 23, 2019

H.R. 2157, Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2019


NOTEWORTHY

Background: This is the Senate’s third attempt to pass a disaster supplemental this year. During the partial government shutdown in January, dueling substitute amendments failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to end debate. A second effort, which extended emergency relief to the flood and tornado-damaged Midwest, was similarly defeated in April. The disaster debate broadened when, on May 1, President Trump submitted a request for $4.5 billion in emergency supplemental funding to address the humanitarian and security crisis on the southern border. On May 10, the House passed a new $19.3 billion supplemental appropriations bill (HR 2157) without any of the supplemental border funds requested by the administration.

Floor Situation: The Senate is expected to consider HR 2157 and the Shelby substitute this week.

Executive Summary: H.R. 2157 is the shell vehicle for a revised bipartisan disaster supplemental appropriations bill. A substitute offered by Senator Shelby (amendment number 250), would provide approximately $19.1 billion in emergency-designated aid for states and territories affected by recent natural disasters The bipartisan supplemental also contains a provision that would extend the National Flood Insurance Program through September 30, 2019.

Text of the Shelby substitute and a summary can be found on the Senate Appropriations Committee website.   


OVERVIEW OF THE ISSUE

Disaster Assistance. The White House issued approximately 60 major disaster declarations in 2017 and 2018 attributable to wildfires and mudslides in California; hurricanes inflicting major damage on Gulf States, the southeast, and US territories in the Caribbean and Pacific; Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano eruption; and other natural disasters. Additional declarations followed in 2019, as strong storms caused flooding in the Midwest and tornado damage in the South. More than $118 billion in federal aid has been appropriated in response to the 2017-2018 disasters (Sum total provided by public laws 115-56, 115-72 and 115-123).  This aid was designated as an emergency during the legislative process and does not count against the 2018 discretionary spending caps.

Puerto Rico. So far, $41 billion has been appropriated for the island’s recovery. Of this, $19.4 billion has been obligated and $11.2 billion has been spent. Puerto Rico and a handful of states are waiting to access their shares of $28 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds appropriated by Congress in 2018 (PL 115-123), money that can’t be awarded until the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publishes a notice in the Federal Register detailing how the funds will be dispensed. Unlike regular discretionary CDBG funds, CDBG-DR funds are not allocated by formula. Each time new CDBG-DR funds are made available, HUD must draft and publish a notice detailing how the money will be apportioned—a process that can lead to delay. Complicating the HUD notice is the fact that the government of Puerto Rico is insolvent—a problem pre-dating Hurricane Maria—and operating under the oversight of a congressionally-created financial control board. On May 2, HUD stated that the CDBG-DR notice had been finalized and presented to the White House.

Tracking disaster funds. FEMA’s Spending Explorer website allows users to track disaster aid appropriated in 2017 and 2018. Topline data is available as well as by state or territory. The website tracks spending in three categories: allocations (appropriations), obligations, and outlays. In addition, FEMA and the government of Puerto Rico have created a joint website to track the expenditures of FEMA’s Public Assistance program and other federal recovery on the island as it rebuilds.  


NOTABLE BILL PROVISIONS

The Shelby substitute amendment $19.1 billion in budget authority for regions affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019. All funds provided in the Shelby substitute, like the other two disaster bills, are designated as emergency spending and would not count against the statutory spending caps. 


Disaster

In addition, the Shelby substitute:

  1. Includes language that would require HUD to publish the delayed administrative requirements for the CDBG-DR mitigation grants appropriated in Public Law 115-123 within 90 days.
  2. Extends the National Flood Insurance Program authorization through September 30, 2019. It currently expires May 31. NFIP provides primary flood insurance to property owners in certain flood-prone areas and provides for flood risk reduction when participating communities’ adopt minimum floodplain management standards. As of February 2019, the NFIP provided $1.3 trillion in aggregate coverage through about five million NFIP policies.


ADMINISTRATION POSITION 

The president has not released a Statement of Administration Policy.


COST

According to the cost estimate provided by the Congressional Budget Office, the Shelby substitute amendment would appropriate nearly $19.1 billion in budget authority for disaster recovery efforts.

The amounts provided are all designated as emergency spending and would not count against the discretionary spending caps. Because the CBO baseline assumes continuation of the NFIP under the same conditions as current law, the extension of the flood insurance program would not affect the federal deficit.