By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Monday approved legislation providing $19.1 billion in emergency funding for disaster recovery efforts throughout the United States, including Puerto Rico, sending it to President Donald Trump to sign into law.
Final passage came as the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted 354-58 for the measure, which lawmakers and Trump had haggled over for months. It was approved by the Republican-led Senate late last month, and Trump has said he supports it.
The president, who is on a visit to London, tweeted that the bill’s passage was “great,” but appeared to think it still had to go through the Senate before reaching his desk. “Great, now we will get it done in the Senate! Farmers, Puerto Rico and all will be very happy,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The bill was a rare legislative trophy for a Congress crippled by partisan strife and battles over Trump’s refusal to cooperate with House investigations related to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
House leaders tried three times in the past 10 days to win quick, unanimous approval of the bill while most lawmakers were away on recess. Conservative Republicans blocked those efforts, forcing House leaders to wait until the full chamber returned to work on Monday to pass the bill.
The measure would assist victims of numerous disasters over the past two years, from hurricanes in the Southeast to Midwestern flooding and California wildfires. It has funds to repair highways and other infrastructure, including some military bases, as well as aid to help farmers cover crop losses.
The bill also includes a $605 million nutrition program and $304 million in community development grants to help Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, recover from a devastating 2017 hurricane.
Trump had vehemently opposed sending any more aid to the Caribbean island, but recently relented on that as well as his demand last month for $4.5 billion to cope with a migrant surge at the southern border. He has said he would seek the border money later.
The legislation also extends a national flood insurance program until Sept. 30.
Many lawmakers were eager for passage to help constituents and give themselves something to boast about as they run for re-election next year. The disaster aid is not offset, however, by cuts to other programs, a sore point with some conservative Republicans.
Negotiators resisted some special-interest provisions but expanded a federal farm insurance program to include coverage for hemp crops – of particular interest to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney)