U.S. House approves bill to extend FAA, hurricane tax relief

Louis Nastro—Reuters
FILE PHOTO - A United Airlines Boeing 787 taxis as a United Airlines Boeing 767 lands at San Francisco International Airport

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted to approve a bill to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to continue to operate and a package of tax relief bills to aid hurricane victims despite objections from Democrats.

Authorization for the FAA is set to expire on Saturday, the end of the budget year. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, will extend this for another six months as Congress debates whether to privatize the country’s air traffic control system and considers new airline passenger protections. The bill also extends three healthcare programs, but would not extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is expected to run out of money in 2018, because leadership said addressing the program would have to be a part of the overall health care debate.

The FAA extension also has some flood relief provisions to which some Democrats objected.  It has a provision that would make it easier for people with hurricane losses to write them off on their taxes, eliminating a requirement that personal losses must exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income to qualify for a deduction. Disaster-affected employers would also get a tax credit for 40 percent of wages, up to $6,000 per employee.

It would also give hurricane victims penalty-free access to retirement funds and temporarily suspends limitations on the deduction for charitable contributions to hurricane relief made before year-end.

Another provision of the bill would encourage the creation of private flood insurance markets to provide consumers with more coverage options. Democrats said it “does nothing to address stability of the [National Flood Insurance Program] either by increasing its borrowing authority, extending its reauthorization, or addressing affordability.”

On Monday, the bill initially failed passage on a 245-to-171 margin because House Democratic leaders urged their colleagues to oppose the measure, citing Republicans’ refusal to allow the Dream Act to be tacked on as an amendment. The DREAM Act would allow recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to remain in the country. Last month President Donald Trump ordered DACA to end in six months

DACA is a program launched under executive order by former president Barack Obama that shielded 800,000 people from deportation who are in the country illegally because they were brought in as children. When Democrats wanted to add the DREAM Act as an amendment on the FAA bill, House leadership refused, saying a DACA fix will be a separate piece of legislation.

The bill extends the FAA operations for six months as is, while lawmakers discuss Trump’s proposal in March of handing over control of U.S. air traffic control to a privately-operated board. Democrats and owners of private planes object to the privatization plan.

Major U.S. carriers, including American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, all back the privatization proposal.

Reuters News Service contributed to this report.