Monday, November 29, 2021

House to Vote on Disaster Aid Package for Puerto Rico After Earthquakes

The New York Times
By on January 17, 2020

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WASHINGTON — House lawmakers introduced an emergency aid package Thursday to help Puerto Rico rebuild after earthquakes devastated the already storm-battered island, challenging President Donald Trump, who has resisted further assistance for the commonwealth.

The $3.35 billion package includes $100 million for education, $1.25 billion to rebuild roads and $2 billion in general disaster relief. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said the House would take up the legislation after Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

The push to allocate supplemental funds comes as the island reels from a series of catastrophic earthquakes this month and as it continues to struggle to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Puerto Rico’s governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced, said on Twitter that Trump had signed a declaration of a major disaster for the commonwealth, making more aid available.

But Wednesday, when the White House freed up nearly $16 billion in relief funding that Congress had approved in late 2017, it also severely restricted how that money could be spent. That includes blocking spending on the island’s electrical grid, suspending its $15-an-hour minimum wage for federally funded relief work and requiring budget plans to be submitted to Puerto Rico’s federally mandated fiscal control board.

“The Trump administration has finally showed signs of relenting in its attempts to illegally withhold vital aid to Puerto Rico and must provide the rest of the assistance this Congress has already enacted for the island,” said Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “However, there are still urgent unmet needs on the island that necessitate additional relief.”

Securing congressional approval for disaster aid and getting it spent have become fraught during the Trump administration. The president has repeatedly clashed with the island’s leadership and balked at sending funds. Once the federal money has been approved, his administration has slow-walked its distribution.

This time, lawmakers included language that would allow Puerto Rican officials to combine the new money with previously allocated funds that have yet to be spent. The package would also set deadlines for the administration to complete grant agreements and establish procedural steps to spend the money.

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