Federal disaster aid for SC, NC delayed after Republican blocks speedy passage

Drone video of Conway, SC, and cresting of the Waccamaw River

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence's deluge of rain crest in the seat of Horry County, Conway, S.C.
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Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence's deluge of rain crest in the seat of Horry County, Conway, S.C.

North and South Carolinians will have to wait a little while longer for federal dollars to help them recover from major hurricanes last fall.

Congress was expected on last week to send a $19.1 billion disaster relief package for President Donald Trump to sign and enact into law — a breakthrough after months of stalled negotiations on Capitol Hill. The U.S. Senate passed a compromise bill on Thursday afternoon, 85-8, with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina and Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina all supporting the measure.

North and South Carolina residents who bore the worst of Hurricanes Florence and Michael in September and October of 2018 are eligible to receive millions of dollars from that package. The Carolinas were hit hard, particularly by Florence, which delivered record rainfall in both states. South Carolina farmers have been particularly eager for the help.

But a sole Republican member of the U.S. House, Chip Roy of Texas, objected to efforts in his chamber to pass the bill using a procedural maneuver that doesn’t require all lawmakers to record their votes — necessary for advancing the measure at this time since lawmakers have all gone home for a weeklong congressional recess.

Roy’s complaint was that the bill as written does not include money for border security, as Trump was at one point demanding that funding as a condition of his support.

However, Trump finally relented and said he would sign disaster relief legislation without that funding, so it’s not likely Roy’s campaign to amend the bill will be successful.

Lawmakers tried again on Tuesday and Thursday to pass the bill using the same procedural move known as “unanimous consent.” Each time, another Republican lawmaker took to the chamber floor to formally oppose that action.

That means North Carolinians, South Carolinians and victims of other natural disasters around the country will have to wait until at least June 3 to start requesting the aid, when members return to Capitol Hill to take a roll call vote and record their positions.

“North Carolinians working to recover from disasters like Florence and Michael have been waiting too long for Washington to act,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I’m disappointed North Carolinians continue to wait for much-needed relief, and I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation as soon as possible.”

Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.