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Motion to pass federal funding for disaster relief fails in House

Congressman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, voted down a last-minute motion to achieve full federal funding for disaster relief, calling the effort redundant to existing legislation.

The vote happened during discussion on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which was passed Friday.

With other members of the Republican party, Knight opposed the motion, proposed by New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, D-Brooklyn, to add to the FAA bill provisions that would have given 100 percent federal funding to communities recovering from disasters.

With other members of the Republican party, Knight opposed the motion, proposed by New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, D-Brooklyn, to add to the FAA bill provisions that would have given 100 percent federal funding to communities recovering from disasters.

The final vote was 223-182 against, split by party.

California was among the potential recipients of proposed direct federal assistance, which would alleviate costs from cleanup after fires, such as the Rye fire, which ravaged parts of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Usually when the federal government approves disaster aid, it still requires cost-sharing with local jurisdictions. State and municipal communities still must come up with 25 percent of funding for FEMA’s services, including public assistance, debris removal, and individual assistance. The failed motion sought to put the onus of that payment on federal officials, saving local governments money.

“Federal wildfire funding was a top priority in the recent Omnibus funding bill, which became law last month,” Knight said Friday. “This vote today on the (motion) was procedural without authority to make or change law. The language in today’s (motion) was also redundant because there is already authority that allows for waiver of the cost share so that projects are 100 percent federal.”

In response to the motion failing, Velazquez tweeted, “Today, I offered an amendment on House floor to waive local cost-share requirements for FEMA funds for Puerto Rico, VI and other disaster stricken areas like TX, FL, and areas impacted by CA wildfires. Shameful that @HouseGOP voted this amendment down!”

Knight previously cosponsored The California Wildfire Disaster Tax Relief Act in December, which allows victims of a Presidential “major disaster” declaration to deduct property damage costs.

In 2007, Congress approved 100 percent federal funding to pay for FEMA’s activities through the 2007 U.S. Troops Readiness, Veterans Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act. The states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Texas were eligible for complete federal funding for Hurricanes Rita, Dennis, Wilma and Katrina under certain sections of the Stafford Act, the bill responsible for carrying out federal natural disaster assistance.

The Rye fire in Santa Clarita burned over 6,000 acres in December, forcing thousands in the Westridge and Valencia areas to flee their homes and schools.

Knight has voted in favor of other congressional action for disaster relief, which includes:

  • the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which contained an $81 billion aid package for hurricane and wildfire victims
  • The recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill of 2018, signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 23, had provisions for funding wildfire suppression costs that will not be implemented until fiscal year 2020. They end a practice known as “fire borrowing,” the name for the ability to raid funds set aside for forest conservation, wildfire prevention and recreation programs to pay for the immediate costs of suppressing wildfires.

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