Hurricane recovery funds not included in $1.5 trillion federal spending package

Published 3:40 pm Wednesday, March 9, 2022

WASHINGTON —A $1.5 trillion federal spending package unveiled at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday did not include relief for Louisiana residents impacted by the 2020 and 2021 hurricanes, much to the dismay of Congressman Garret Graves.

The Omnibus spending package includes $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine and Eastern European countries. More than $6.5 billion is dedicated to the Defense Department, with another $3.9 billion allocated to the state department for humanitarian assistance. Approximately $2.8 billion will provide aid for vulnerable populations in Ukraine and surrounding regions impacted by the ongoing war.

The Omnibus package totaled 5,154 pages and was released hours before a scheduled vote from the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate this week to outline spending for the remainder of the fiscal year and avoid a partial government shutdown.

Graves (R-Louisiana) previously filed amendments to secure $3 billion in disaster aid for residents impacted by hurricanes Ida, Laura, Delta and Zeta.

If implemented, the amendment would have allocated funds to address housing and immediate needs for hurricane victims through the Housing & Development and the Economic Development Administration.

“Those amendments were blocked,” Graves said, voicing his opposition to the federal government prioritizing aid for foreign countries over American citizens.

“There are definitely some good things in the bill. It increases funds for our military, which is badly needed. I support military aid and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, but I don’t know how you do that for citizens of other countries and you don’t offer some type of assistance for your own citizens. I’m really disappointed at how this has been handled,” Graves said.

Graves expressed a dire need for the government to expedite housing solutions for hurricane survivors, in addition to hurricane protection efforts.

“You can’t ask people to rebuild in these areas if they have vulnerability,” Graves said.

The federal government has taken some steps toward hurricane risk reduction in 2022. Graves helped secure $8 million for engineering and design of the Upper Barataria Basin Project aimed to provide hurricane protection in Lafourche, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes. In January 2022, an additional $453 million in federal funding was allocated to the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee Project in St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes, bringing the total cost of the project from $760 million to $1.2 billion.

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) also voiced his opposition to the FY 2022 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

According to Dr. Cassidy, following the September passage of $600 million in hurricane relief for Southwest Louisiana and $5 billion for states impacted by Hurricane Ida, the Louisiana delegation has continued to push the Biden administration and their congressional colleagues for additional aid.

In a statement, Dr. Cassidy said, “The White House choosing to not include needed and overdue disaster aid in their funding request to Congress was a major blow. In a Democrat party-controlled Washington, formal White House support is critical. I will continue to look for other opportunities to secure this aid. I will not stop trying.”

While lacking provisions on hurricane relief, the Omnibus package unveiled Wednesday provided $782 billion in defense spending, marking a 5.6% increase over the 2021 defense allocation.

Following deliberations in House of Representatives Wednesday morning, leaders opted to remove $15.6 billion in COVID-19 aid provisions from the spending package.