House passes supplemental disaster relief for Puerto Rico

House passes supplemental disaster relief for Puerto Rico
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The House on Friday passed legislation to provide Puerto Rico with $4.7 billion in emergency aid to help the island recover from the devastation caused by recent earthquakes and damage that remains from hurricanes Maria and Irma despite a veto threat from President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE

The measure, passed in the lower chamber with 237-161 vote, was spearheaded by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTop House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban Progressives look to flex their muscle in next Congress after primary wins MORE (D-N.Y.).

The legislation would provide a $3.26 billion community development block grant (CDBG) for disaster recovery, $1.25 billion to repair infrastructure including roads and bridges, $100 million to restart school operations, $40 million for nutrition assistance and an additional $20 million for Puerto Rico’s energy needs.

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The Trump administration, however, issued a veto threat on Wednesday, citing concerns over corruption and misuse of previous aid provided to the territory for recovery efforts. 

“Neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse," the White House said in its statement.

"Puerto Rico has a long history of inadequate financial controls over regular government operations, which forced the Congress to appoint a financial control board in 2016. Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island."

Democrats pushed back on that characterization, noting that CDBG funds were overseen by watchdogs.

The emergency supplemental package laid out in the legislation also includes language that would place a requirement on the Trump administration to submit “detailed spending plans” and mandate the funding be released “released in a timely manner.”

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"I had a firsthand tune to see the devastation that Puerto Rico suffered from. And this was prior to the 6.7 earthquake that hit on January 7," Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenThe Memo: Trump's race tactics fall flat Trump administration ending support for 7 Texas testing sites as coronavirus cases spike The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Miami mayor worries about suicide and domestic violence rise; Trump-governor debate intensifies MORE (D-Texas) said on the floor, noting his visit to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the island. 

"I believe it is time for us to act. I believe this legislation provides the means by which we can act appropriately.”

The recent series of earthquakes has left two-thirds of the island without power, 300,000 people without water and damaged hundreds of homes. 

Just last month, the Trump administration released $8 billion in relief funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that had been delayed since September. 

Democrats were incensed by the delay, calling it political and, worse, a result of bias.

“Anything coming from the White House is probably dictated from the top, by the president’s prejudice and his relentlessly negative attitude toward Puerto Rico,” said Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceHouse panel approves measure requiring masks on public transport Overnight Energy: 350 facilities skip reporting water pollution | Panel votes to block Trump's 'secret science' rule | Court upholds regulation boosting electric grid storage Committee votes to block Trump's 'secret science' EPA rule MORE (D-N.C.), an appropriator.

Price also noted that the package re-ups CDBG funds for other aid causes outside of Puerto Rico. 

Senate Republicans said they would not advance on the bill. 
 
"Unfortunately, Senate Finance Committee Republicans were not consulted as House Democrats hurriedly cobbled together their bill," a spokesman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Senators offer disaster tax relief bill Trump spikes political football with return of Big Ten season MORE (R-Iowa) said, adding that Grassley broadly agreed with the White House veto rationale.