Trump signs $36.5 billion emergency aid bill for disasters

By KEN THOMAS Markets Associated Press

President Donald Trump signed a $36.5 billion emergency aid measure on Thursday to refill disaster accounts, provide a cash infusion to Puerto Rico and bail out the federal flood insurance program.

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The president signed the bill after the Senate sent him the measure earlier this week to help Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico after a devastating string of hurricanes. The funding will also bolster Western states dealing with massive wildfires.

To date, Congress has approved more than $50 billion in disaster aid this fall but more money will be needed. The states and Puerto Rico continue to assess the damage from an onslaught of damaging storms.

The measure provides $18.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency's accounts, and $16 billion to allow the flood insurance program to keep paying claims.

Led by the Florida and Texas delegations, Congress will be pressed for additional funding to help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild and to cover damage to water and navigation projects, crops, public buildings and infrastructure.

But White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said earlier this week the next request for disaster aid, expected to cost tens of billions of dollars, should be paired with cuts to other government programs to finance the money.

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The current measure would permit FEMA to allocate up to $5 billion to assist Puerto Rico's central government and various municipalities dealing with a cash crisis.

Hurricane Maria, which made direct landfall on the island last month, has largely shut down Puerto Rico's economy. The island's electric grid has been mostly destroyed and about 75 percent of the U.S. territory remains without power.

Trump tweeted earlier this month that the federal government can't keep sending help to Puerto Rico "forever" and suggested that the island was to blame for its years of economic struggles. Before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was in the process of restructuring much of its $74 billion in debt.