House Passes Disaster Relief Bill After Lawmakers Force Vote

The measure was approved 382-7 after the first successful discharge petition since 2015 brought it to the floor.

A disaster relief bill overwhelmingly passed the House on May 21 through a mechanism that rarely succeeds.

The Federal Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2023 passed 382-7 through an expeditious process that requires a two-thirds majority. All no votes came from Republicans.

Introduced by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), the bill would give federal tax relief to victims of natural disasters and provide federal tax relief to those impacted by the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in February last year.

The bill was brought to the floor through a discharge petition, which must be signed by 218 members to force a vote.  The petition, which was also put forth by Mr. Steube, got the signatures with all but 26 coming from Democrats.

There are 11 active discharge petitions that do not have the required 218 signatures.

The last time a discharge petition was successful was in 2015, when the Export-Import Bank was reauthorized. The bill went on to become law.

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Mr. Steube noted the rarity of success of discharge petitions and said that getting the needed signatures is “a testament to how important this issue is for ALL of our constituents.

“Floridians have waited since 2022 to receive tax relief from Hurricane Ian, and many other Americans have waited just as long for relief from other disasters.”

The measure is in a tax relief bill that passed the House earlier this year but is in limbo in the Senate.

FEMA Relaxes Payout Rules

In January, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced regulations to streamline the process of receiving assistance from Washington after natural disasters.

Previously, FEMA couldn’t help homeowners with repairs if their insurance payout already exceeded the agency’s assistance cap of $42,500 per disaster. Now, homeowners can get money from the agency to make up the difference.

Additionally, disaster survivors first had to apply for a loan—and be rejected—by the Small Business Administration before they could apply for FEMA assistance.

The agency has had something called critical needs assistance, currently $750, that survivors can use for whatever they need immediately following a disaster—baby formula or food, for example.

However, states or tribal nations had to specifically request that category of assistance, which was done on a case-by-case basis.

Now, anytime a disaster is declared that includes FEMA’s individual assistance funding stream, those $750 payments will be available. Survivors still have to apply, and there is some vetting to prevent fraud, but it bypasses the application that states and tribal nations previously were required to make.

That doesn’t mean that every disaster will include these payments. Many declared disasters are more limited in scope.

Disaster survivors with disabilities can use FEMA money to make changes to their homes to make them more accessible, whereas, under previous rules, the agency would only pay to rebuild things that had been damaged in the disaster.

And FEMA is creating a new category of aid called displacement assistance, designed to help those who can’t return to their home.

It gives them money for housing while they’re looking for a long-term rental and has flexibility so that they can, for example, use that money to help pay a friend’s utilities if they’re crashing on a couch.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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