Senate Democrats block disaster aid measure
Puerto Rico gov, congresswoman reject differences on federal disaster aid bills
SAN JUAN – Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló rejected Monday the controversy between the two over the bills in U.S. Congress that would allocate disaster funds for Puerto Rico.
However, Senate Democrats blocked the Republican disaster aid bill because it did not help Puerto Rico enough they said. The measure, which differs from the bill passed in the House in January, was reportedly changed after President Trump expressed hesitance toward approving further disaster funding for the island.
“The Democrats today killed a Bill that would have provided great relief to Farmers and yet more money to Puerto Rico despite the fact that Puerto Rico has already been scheduled to receive more hurricane relief funding than any ‘place’ in history,” Trump tweeted Monday.
“The people of Puerto Rico are GREAT, but the politicians are incompetent or corrupt,” his post reads. “Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess – nothing works. FEMA & the Military worked emergency miracles, but politicians like the crazed and incompetent Mayor of San Juan have done such a poor job of bringing the Island back to health.”
Puerto Rico’s congresswoman González backed the Senate measure, while the island’s governor the already passed House bill.
“At the end of the day, what we want is for the money for Puerto Rico to appear. What worries me most is that this could have been approved in January; it could have been approved in February and we are already in April and a reduction in PAN (nutritional assistance program) benefits has already begun. That is why I believe the Senate bill forces both delegations, Democrats and Republicans, to work out the details in the different parts. The governor and I want the most funds possible for Puerto Rico,” González Colón said at a press conference, concluding her remarks with a Spanish expression that means they obviously are both working toward that end.
When asked what their plan was, Rosselló said, “The strategy is to negotiate with all the parties [involved] to get the greatest number of resources for Puerto Rico. If the resident commissioner and I were to draw a diagram here, we’d be putting ourselves at a disadvantage for what we are negotiating there. So our goal is to get the most resources.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 268, which includes the allocation of some $14.2 billion in disaster aid for several states but the Senate voted Monday afternoon on a measure authored by Sens. Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Sonny Perdue, which only included $600 million for Puerto Rico’s nutrition assistance program, which faces a funding cliff in September.
Democrats blocked passage because they want to “add almost $700 million more to unlock further disaster aid for Puerto Rico and several states, including help to rebuild badly damaged water systems. Democrats are also seeking to force the administration to release billions of dollars in rebuilding funds that have already been approved,” according to the Associated Press.
On Sunday, Rosselló urged Congress to consider voting on H.R. 268, “as already approved in the House,” because, he said it “provides much-needed support to Puerto Rico to address infrastructure, education, nutritional and housing needs.”
He issued a statement saying: “Puerto Rico must receive the federal resources necessary to sufficiently complete our recovery and reconstruction in a timely manner, and to assist the more than 3 million U.S. citizens who live on the island and are working each and every day to recover” from Hurricane Maria, which he said “depleted our resources.”
The governor stressed: “Currently, we simply do not have the funds to cover cost-share requirements set forth – unilaterally and unnecessarily – by FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]. What we are requesting is the same treatment other jurisdictions have received from the federal government: For the federal government to cover 100 percent of the cost-share requirements for emergency work is extremely helpful and will speed up the recovery’s current pace. We reiterate that we are not setting new precedent as this help has been extended to other jurisdictions in the past. We merely request equal treatment.”
The governor said he was also asking for $500 million to continue repairing the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa) infrastructure to make it more resilient in the event of another disaster.
“Moreover, the Caño Martín Peña, an underserved community in San Juan, is in desperate need of environmental restoration. To put an end to the constant flooding and devastating living conditions endured by it’s over 23,000 residents, as well as hundreds of thousands in its vicinity, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires $25 million, which H.R. 268 provides. As we rebuild our electric grid, we are asking for $15 million in Department of Energy technical assistance so that we can rebuild our electric grid stronger, better and more resilient than before.”
The amendment being considered by the Senate, he said, “falls short of addressing the majority of our most pressing needs.”
–CB’s María Miranda and CyberNews contributed to this report