Funds for Puerto Rico “Excessive”?

“Almost a year and a half since the hurricane,” said MSNBC news anchor Chris Hayes in a recent report, “there has been no sustained formal U.S. government inquiry into what happened to lead to the deaths of as many Americans as died in 9/11.”

There have been calls for such an inquiry, but it has not yet taken place. In the meantime, disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico is threatened.

Hayes went on to report that the White House called food stamp funding approved by the Congress for Puerto Rico “excessive and unnecessary.” In the official statement released on January 16, 2019, the administration said that “H.R. 268 includes $600 million in excessive and unnecessary funding for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP).”

The statement further says, “USDA has been working closely with Puerto Rico to develop and implement a plan to return the NAP to normal operations after providing significant additional resources immediately after the 2017 hurricanes. There is no indication that households need ongoing support at this time or that Puerto Rico requires additional time to return to normal NAP operations.”

Responding to HR 268, which supports other disaster-struck areas as well as Puerto Rico, the administration explains, “The Congress should not use natural disasters as a pretext to engage in unnecessary spending outside of the agreed-upon discretionary spending caps.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez responded to the statement, saying, “It is wholly unconscionable that this Administration would oppose emergency assistance to Americans affected by disaster – and specifically cite $600 million in nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico as one reason for doing so. This is a program that aids some of the most vulnerable who have already suffered immensely.”

HR 268 is officially summarized in this way:

This bill provides $12.1 billion in FY2019 supplemental appropriations to several federal departments and agencies for expenses related to the consequences of recent wildfires, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters.

The funding provided by this bill is designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits and other budget enforcement rules.

The White House statement said that President Trump’s staff would recommend that he veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Governor Ricardo Rossello strongly disagreed with the claim that Puerto Rico needs no ongoing support. “I’m making a public request to you, Mr. President, to meet me so that I can correct the ill-informed advice and disconcerting notions you are getting on Puerto Rico,” he said on social media. The additional funding would allow disaster victims to continue receiving nutritional assistance after current funding runs out. This is expected to happen in March. The average assistance comes to $135 per month for each household.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon said, “the only permanent solution to the discrimination in NAP — and the Administration’s opposition to additional NAP funding after Puerto Rico’s disaster of a century — is statehood. Without votes and equality within the U.S., Puerto Rico will always be vulnerable to discrimination and second-class treatment.”

On the other hand, Freedom Works, a Libertarian advocacy group, echoed the White House position that there is already enough funding for disaster response, saying, “There is no reason for Congress to be spending taxpayer dollars unnecessarily for the sake of appearing sympathetic to a cause that is already very adequately funded, if not excessively funded.”

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