House Democrats Unveil New Disaster Assistance Proposal

U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Lowey (D-NY) last night proposed a bill to appropriate $4.67 billion in special disaster assistance for Puerto Rico.

The bill has the support of the Democratic leadership and is expected to pass the House of Representatives next week.

A Trump Administration official said in reaction to an earlier $3.35 billion draft of the bill that additional appropriations were not needed. Senate Republicans are expected to follow the Trump Administration’s position.

The bill and its earlier draft both had $1.25 billion for work on roads and $100 million for repairs to schools. The new proposal includes $3.26 billion in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) funding for projects including “infrastructure and housing, economic revitalization,” and improving the ability of infrastructure to withstand disasters. The draft had $2 billion.

HUD would be required to complete consultations on CBDG funding for Puerto Rico’s electrical grid within 30 days and issue regulations for use of the funds within 60 days.

HUD would also be required to execute grant agreements within 60 days of approving the grants.

The $4.67 billion also includes $21.75 million for the Energy Department to provide technical assistance related to the territory’s electrical grid. $15 million of that amount would be “to enhance real-time situational awareness and continued recovery support” of the system. The remaining $6.75 million would cover technical assistance “to conduct earthquake risk analysis, enhance long-term energy planning, improve energy sector situational awareness, and strengthen cybersecurity.”

The other addition to the draft is $40 million in nutrition assistance.  Puerto Rico is not included in federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The parallel Puerto Rico benefit – the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) – is much less generous and does not include a mechanism to automatically address areas in times of extreme need.

As Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) has written to USDA Secretary Purdue, “the block grant funding made available through NAP is simply incapable of meeting the needs of Puerto Ricans, particularly given the current circumstances resulting from the disaster.”

The measure also anticipates tax provisions to be added by the Ways and Means Committee.

Links to copies of the bill and the Appropriations Committee’s summary follow.

https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/documents/H.R.%205687.pdf

https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/documents/HR%205687%20Summary.pdf

 

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