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South Carolina set to receive millions in storm aid as stalemate ends on Capitol Hill

As South Carolina enters hurricane season for 2019, the state is due to receive millions of dollars to help make up for damage caused by devastating storms in 2018.

The U.S. House voted late Monday 354-58 to approve a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill for states affected by recent natural disasters, from storms to wildfires. Out of that pot of money, South Carolinians will qualify for cash from federal grant programs to assist in local recovery efforts still ongoing after hurricanes Florence and Michael last fall.

Three of the seven members of the state’s U.S. House delegation — Republicans Jeff Duncan, William Timmons and Ralph Norman — voted against the measure, which now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

It is the culmination of several months of tense negotiations on Capitol Hill.

First, lawmakers and Trump could not agree on how much money to allocate for recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, still struggling after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Then, Trump said he wouldn’t sign a disaster relief measure that didn’t include money for humanitarian aid for migrants at the southern border.

There was so much uncertainty over the fate of federal disaster relief funds that South Carolina lawmakers eventually took matters into their own hands to help the state’s struggling farmers, sending a budget to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster that included a one-time pot of $25 million to help farmers affected by hurricanes Florence and Michael.

But finally, as Congress was preparing at the end of last month to leave Washington for a weeklong recess, Trump relented and allowed lawmakers to move forward with a bill that included the Puerto Rico funding he originally opposed and omitted the border security money on which he’d once insisted.

The U.S. Senate passed the measure, 85-8, before leaving town. Since members of the U.S. House had already left for recess prior to an agreement being reached, senators expected lawmakers in the other chamber to clear the bill for the president’s signature using a procedural maneuver that doesn’t require a recorded vote.

But over the course of the next week, Republicans who supported Trump’s border money demands prevented the bill from advancing, saying they needed the chance to register their disapproval. Only after Congress formally reconvened on Monday could lawmakers take that roll call vote.

Duncan and Norman are conservative hardliners on Capitol Hill who support increased funding for border security. Timmons was also bothered by the lack of border security funding but also by how much money the bill spent, generally, without regard to a long-term plan for how to balance the federal budget.

Now that the bill is set to become law, South Carolina will keep the $25 million set aside for farm aid, as state farmers will have access to money out of a $3 billion federal fund specifically designated for farm aid.

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.
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