House to vote on $36.5 billion disaster relief package for hurricanes, wildfires

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives is expected on Thursday to approve $36.5 billion in emergency relief for hurricane-hit areas such as Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as California, struck by devastating wildfires.

Included in the bill is $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund. Of that, $4.9 billion is earmarked for loans to local governments to ensure that the cash-strapped U.S. territory of Puerto Rico can keep government programs operating beyond Oct. 31.

Other funds in the legislation include $576.5 million to be directed to the federal government's wildfire control efforts. Some $16 billion would go to the National Flood Insurance Program to help it cover claims after reaching its borrowing limit.

RELATED: Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation

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Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation
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Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation
A man stands inside of a destroyed supermarket by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Local residents collect water from a broken pipe at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria, in Cayey, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz (R) embraces Esperanza Ruiz, a city administrator, outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photo shows people lining up at a gas station follwing damages caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
An elderly woman stands after receiving food during a supplies distributions at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People line up to board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that will take them to the U.S. mainland, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man carrying a water container walks next to damaged houses after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman drinks from a bottle after filling it with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A boy climbs a tree at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
People queue to fill containers with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man rides a bicycle by damaged electricity lines at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A shows the damages of his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Children play on the roof of a damaged house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Damaged houses are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People wake up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Monica Lopez (R) looks at her dog at a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Damaged houses are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman cleans her house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People wait for their cellphones to be charged outside a store during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man tries to rebuild his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People use their cellphones on the street during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Carlos Cruz (L) wakes up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman uses her cellphone on the street during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People wait at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man tries to repair a generator in the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Hilda Colon wakes up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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Once passed by the Republican-led House, the Senate, also controlled by Republicans, is expected to take up the relief package later this month after it returns from a week-long recess.

Leaders of both major parties have applauded the bill.

"These funds are vital right now, in the near term, to get the aid where it is needed most," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican, said in a statement.

Frelinghuysen added that "more assistance will be required in the near future" and said his committee would be monitoring the crises as they unfold.

Democratic Representative Nydia Velázquez of New York, which has a large Puerto Rican community, said the relief package was "just the start" of federal aid to Puerto Rico, where large portions of the island remain without electricity or running water three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

"Much more needs to be done, but, for now the bill includes critical measures that the island needs in the short term to respond to this once-in-a-generation humanitarian crisis," Velázquez said in a statement.

SEE ALSO: Report: FEMA removed information on Puerto Rico crisis from website

Puerto Rico is burdened with nearly $72 billion in pre-hurricane debt that is being overseen by a federally created oversight board.

Velázquez said the funds earmarked for loans to local governments would assist Puerto Rico's "liquidity crisis" and that steps must be taken to ensure that creditors are unable to access funds meant for disaster relief.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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