The West

No disaster aid money included in Congress’ agreement to keep government open

No disaster aid funding was included in the agreement both parties agreed to Monday in order to keep the government open, leaving funding for wildfire victims uncertain.

Earlier agreements had spelled out as much as $14 billion for communities in California, North Carolina, Florida and Puerto Rico that were devastated by fires, flooding and hurricanes in the past two years, but Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said Tuesday no disaster aid money was included in the current agreement that seems likely to pass Congress.

“We didn’t want to load it up with other things,” Shelby said. “You put one thing in it, then you have to add another.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the top Senate Democrat on negotiations, promised there would be a separate bill to grant money for victims of those disasters. Shelby said staff were working on a bill on disaster aid that could be ready as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday, however neither Shelby nor Leahy could provide additional details on what would be included in such a bill.

While both parties in Congress agreed to the latest version of the bill, it’s still unclear if President Donald Trump will sign off on the agreement. Shelby said White House aides were in contact during negotiations but that doesn’t guarantee Trump’s signature on the document.

Trump said in a Cabinet meeting Tuesday that he was “not happy” about the agreement, but did not say whether he would sign it. It includes about $1.4 billion in barrier construction at the border, the main point of contention that prompted a 35-day government shutdown. Trump had been requesting $5.7 billion.

“It’s not doing the trick,” Trump said.

California, alone, requested more than $9 billion for wildfire recovery in November to help with tasks like debris removal and rebuilding homes, schools and roads destroyed by the fires in Butte County and Southern California last year.

Massive wildfires continue to sweep through Northern California's wine region, forcing emergency evacuations and destroying more than 2,000 buildings. The fires began Sunday evening, though the initial cause is under investigation.

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.