Devastating floods threaten to end farming career for Bruce Biermann in northwest Missouri
Congress has a chance to help millions of Americans who are facing the devastating consequences of floods, wildfires, tornadoes and other natural disasters during the past two years, including flood victims in Missouri and Kansas.
Residents in both states are still digging out from the Missouri River’s muck. On Wednesday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson asked for a federal disaster declaration for flood victims, just like the ones Iowa and Nebraska already have in place. Kansas may soon make a similar request. The states need Washington’s help.
Yet the federal government remains locked in a frustrating debate over a disaster relief bill that includes help for flood victims. Congress must break the stalemate when it returns to work this week.
Compromise will be essential. No American should have to wait months or even years for help after a disaster, a fact senators and representatives have forgotten all too often recently.
The signs so far aren’t encouraging.
Earlier this month, the Senate rejected measures that would help victims of California wildfires, Hurricanes Michael and Florence, and other disasters. Republicans didn’t like the Democratic plan, and Democrats rejected a GOP alternative.
The hang-up? President Donald Trump opposes significant additional aid for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from a 2017 hurricane. Democrats have insisted on spending more than the $600 million Republicans have offered for nutrition programs on the island.
The president and congressional Republicans should not let aid to Puerto Rico stall progress on the disaster spending bill. Puerto Rico still needs help, and its citizens are Americans — just as American as a Missouri farmer or California homeowner.
Congress should fully fund Puerto Rico’s disaster requests.
At the same time, Democrats should not use the disaster bill as a vehicle for additional policy decisions, such as spending on border security. Congress must develop a clean aid package that fully funds disaster programs in every state and territory that need help, and then save unrelated policy disputes for another day.
Congress must also start to rethink its overall response to disasters. Why does this happen every time there’s an emergency? Sending help to our neighbors should be as automatic as anything the government does, yet disaster relief bills almost always turn into political footballs, batted around by both parties.
The best approach might be to set aside more disaster relief funds in advance. In fiscal year 2018, for example, Congress put $7.9 billion into the Disaster Relief Fund — then spent another $42 billion when disasters struck. Those supplemental bills attract crass partisanship like bees to spring flowers.
That must end. The needs of flooded farmers, burned-out homeowners, and hurricane and tornado victims come first. Congress should help the people who need assistance, as soon as possible.