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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 TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE

The measure, passed in the lower chamber with 237-161 vote, was spearheaded by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight GSA offers to brief Congress next week on presidential transition 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. GreenRemoving slurs, bigotry from places on our maps paves the way to remove them from all aspects of our lives Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt The Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest 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 GrassleyColorado governor, spouse test positive for COVID-19 McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Iowa) said, adding that Grassley broadly agreed with the White House veto rationale.