The U.S. Senate late Thursday approved a bill to allocate additional federal disaster relief funds that are crucial for recovery in Vermont and other states in the aftermath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 62 to 37.
Vermont's two senators - Senator Patrick Leahy (D) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I) -- had fought for the bill and said its passage adds momentum to their urgent congressional push to top-up the depleted coffers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The legislation also provides funding for disaster accounts in the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Getting the bill to a vote already has been an arduous process that included overcoming a partisan Senate filibuster earlier this week. Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is helping to lead similar efforts in the House.
Leahy said, "This is a timely boost for the urgent need to help disaster-stricken communities in many states. Our small state is stretched to the limit, and winter is fast approaching. This vote brings us much closer to the goal of helping Vermonters get back on their feet." The bill includes funding additions for FEMA approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Leahy is a senior member.
Leahy continued, "In this country, we help each other when disaster strikes. That's an American value. It is regrettable that despite the clear need to replenish our disaster response funds, and the urgency of doing that now, we have had to overcome obstacles at every turn. At a time like this, some seem driven less by the impulse to help than by the impulse to obstruct. It is unconscionable to inject politics and political point-scoring into a situation that already is so difficult, and so laden with grim realities, for so many of our fellow citizens. I hope this vote will help lead the way back to a more unified and constructive path for the remaining legislative steps."
Sanders said, "I am gratified that the Senate approved $6.9 billion for emergency disaster assistance and I appreciate everything that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others did to make sure the appropriation begins, in a serious way, to address the needs of Vermont and other states devastated by Hurricane Irene."
Sanders continued, "Now that the Senate has done its work, it is time for the Republicans in the House to recognize their responsibilities. Instead of tax breaks for millionaires and expanding military spending, I hope the House provides the emergency assistance that people in Vermont and other states need and deserve."