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PolitiFact Florida: Trump wrongly says Democrats oppose hurricane disaster aid for Florida

The president tweeted the claim ahead of his trip to Panama City last week.
President Donald Trump speaks as he tours areas of Tyndall Air Force Base that were damaged by Hurricane Michael, Wednesday at Tyndall Air Force Base. Listening in a suit with a blue tie is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks as he tours areas of Tyndall Air Force Base that were damaged by Hurricane Michael, Wednesday at Tyndall Air Force Base. Listening in a suit with a blue tie is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Published May 13, 2019

President Donald Trump blamed Democratic lawmakers for standing in the way of hurricane disaster money for northwest Florida.

“Getting ready to leave for one of my favorite places, the Florida Panhandle, where we’ve given, and are giving, billions of $$$ for the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael. Even though the Dems are totally in our way (they don’t want money to go there) we’re getting it done!” Trump tweeted May 8.

Hours later at his Panama City Beach rally, Trump called on Democrats to work together with Republicans to pass disaster aid for the region affected by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Trump then talked about Democrats not wanting to build the wall on the U.S-Mexico border — a connection we’ll explain later.

Trump’s comments that Democrats “don’t want” money to go to the Panhandle oversimplified a partisan fight over hurricane relief dollars. Lawmakers in both parties support disaster aid, including for Florida, but the partisan battle has been over how much to give Puerto Rico.

Trump’s tweet echoes statements by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who has also blamed Democrats for the lack of an agreement.

Partisan fight over disaster aid

Trump seems to be referring to failed efforts in the Senate to pass disaster aid.

The holdup has been in the Senate over how much money to give to Puerto Rico to recover from the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. The negotiations have taken place amid Trump’s criticism of politicians in Puerto Rico and his false claim that the island already got $91 billion.

In the House on Jan. 16, six Republicans joined the Democrats to pass HR 268, which included $14 billion for recovery from wildfires, hurricanes, and other recent natural disasters. The legislation included $600 million for Puerto Rico in disaster nutrition assistance.

That same day, the Trump administration wrote a letter calling the funding for Puerto Rico “excessive and unnecessary.” That prompted questions about whether Trump would sign a bill that included money for Puerto Rico.

Senate Republicans wrote a few versions for disaster relief in 2019, including a $13.45 billion proposal in March by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala. He also included the $600 million in food assistance for Puerto Rico, calling it “a key Democratic priority in the bill.”

But on April 1, the Senate failed to move forward on two versions of disaster aid. The GOP version failed 44-49 with nearly all Democrats voting against it. The House Democratic version failed 46-48, with Republicans voting against it.

For Florida, the legislation would have delivered money for farmers who lost crops and expenses related to flood mitigation, disaster relief, long-term recovery, and restoration of infrastructure.

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the Democrats’ version added up to $2.6 billion for Florida. That tally includes money for farmers, to rebuild roads and communities, and military projects. Exactly how much money would end up going to any state could change, however, depending on eligibility.

Pressure mounted to reach a new agreement, with weeks to go before the start of the June 1 hurricane season.

On May 10, the House approved HR 2157, which will provide about $19 billion in aid. But negotiations were continuing in the Senate headed into the weekend.

News reports in early May said senators were close to a $17 billion deal that includes speeding up access to money for Puerto Rico and money for the Midwest for flooding in 2019. However, the Washington Post reported about a new wrinkle: the Trump administration wanted to add $4.5 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border. Lawmakers from both parties resisted that idea.

Disaster aid was a subject of a luncheon with the GOP senators and Vice President Mike Pence. Shelby told the Washington Post that both parties want disaster aid.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Democrats clearly want disaster assistance to go to Florida.

“Considering the President has consistently and incorrectly complained about how much assistance has been given to Puerto Rico, I would say most of the blame goes to him. I believe Senate Republicans are tired of this fight, and with both Florida Senate seats in Republican hands,they want this done,” he said, referring to Marco Rubio and Scott. “If he gave his blessing, I think the disaster supplemental would move through Congress like greased lightning.”

Our ruling

Trump said Democrats “don’t want money” to go to the Florida Panhandle for Hurricane Michael aid.

His swipe appears to a reference to the Senate Democrats’ April 1 vote against a GOP version of disaster aid, because Democrats wanted more money for Puerto Rico. But Trump omits that Senate Democrats voted in favor of their own version that included money for Florida and other areas hit by disasters. Also, the Democratic-led House passed a bill months ago.

Trump also omits his own role in the delays, including his critical comments about Puerto Rico and his recent request to add money for the border wall.

We rate this statement Mostly False.


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