Yesterday, in a 237-187 vote, the House passed an emergency disaster relief bill that allocates $ 600 millions for the Nutrition Assistance Program for Puerto Rico and $25 million to restore Caño Martín Peña.
The bill exempts Puerto Rico from FEMA matching funds requirements over debris removal and other emergency measures related to address the emergency caused by Hurricane María.
The bill also appropriates $5 million to conduct a study regarding the impact that emergency nutrition assistance measures had on Puerto Rico after the cyclone.
Funds for Caño Martín Peña and the study on nutrition assistance measures were amendments authored by Democrat Nydia Velázquez (New York)
However, Republican Mike Simpson (Idaho) considered that the Caño Martín Peña project is not eligible for construction initiatives under the bill and it had to be addressed through the regular appropriations process. “Frequent floods represent a serious public health threat,” said Velázquez.
Facing President Donald Trump´s threat to use disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico and other jurisdictions to finance the U.S.-México border wall, an amendment by Democrat Jim McGovern (Massachusetts) will prevent diverting those funds for the wall.
The bill allocates $14,17 billion in disaster relief funds to address 2018 natural disasters such as hurricanes in both North and South Carolina and Florida as well as wildfires in California.
In the short term, the bill will not move forward in the Senate, since Republicans do not intend to bring any spending measure to reopen the government through February 8 to the floor. Only six Republicans voted for it.
The Senate Republican leadership stands by President Trump and his claim for any measure intended to reopen the federal government –facing the longest shutdown in history- to include $5,7 billion to fund the border wall.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González supported the bill. “We need that money,” she said about the $600 million in nutrition assistance.
Meanwhile, the office of the governor in Washington said that they will help to press in the Senate for Velázquez amendment for Caño Martín Peña.
In her floor speech, Velázquez denounced Trump´s threats to use disaster relief funds and warned that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is using the partial shutdown as an excuse to delay processes related to assistance for Puerto Rico.
She referred to a January 9 notice from HUD stating that amended action plans for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands related to the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG – DR) Program will require a 15-day additional period due to the shutdown.
Democrat Velázquez said she fears that Ben Carson may be playing politics with the shutdown and the people of Puerto Rico, jeopardizing the island´s recovery.