House approves disaster relief bill without contentious construction ban

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WASHINGTON — The House approved a $36.5 billion emergency funding bill on Thursday to provide disaster relief for areas hard hit by hurricanes and wildfires, including providing $16 billion in debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program so it can continue to pay claims for flood damage.

The Trump administration had initially called for restrictions on new construction in flood zones as part of the aid package, but that provision was stripped from the bill before it was approved by a 353-69 vote.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney initially suggested that the flood insurance program would stop insuring newly constructed homes and commercial properties in flood-prone areas starting Jan. 1, 2021, but the provision ran into resistance from the real estate lobby.

"We strongly oppose the new proposal by OMB Director Mulvaney to phase out new NFIP policies for newly-constructed homes," the National Association of Home Builders said in a statement last week.

The House Financial Services Committee considered similar restrictions on new construction during the summer but they were also scuttled. The homebuilder group said it remains concerned that such a plan will come up again.

"New homes are built to more stringent safety standards and usually fare much better than the older housing stock in flooding disasters," the group said.

As approved, House Resolution 569 provides $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief and $576.4 million for fighting wildfires. The measure now goes to the Senate for approval.

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