On Wednesday October 11, 2017, House Republicans held a media availability event where they addressed the disaster relief legislation that is expected to pass today. This disaster relief legislation will address the relief efforts that stemmed from the California wildfires, and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. The Senate intends to consider a related proposal when it is back in session next week.
The overall theme of the media event was to emphasize the need for disaster relief legislation for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and California. The disaster relief legislation that will be going to the floor later today allocates around $36.4 billion in aid for the affected areas.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said that “Puerto Ricans are Americans. And as Americans, we take care of our own,” reiterating Congress’ obligation to the Puerto Rican people.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón gave an update of the challenging situation facing her roughly 3.3 million constituents. Around 86% of the population is without power, with rumors that the number is actually less after some problems with the electrical grid yesterday. More than 44 percent of the island does not have running water.
Four hospitals have had to close due to the lack of diesel and inability to maintain power. More than 11 bridges and roads were completely destroyed, and Puerto Rico is still receiving more than 11 million meals and 7 million liters of water from FEMA. “We still have a dire situation on the island”, González Colón added, “As of today, there have been 45 deaths counted.”
González Colón will continue her efforts with the federal government to get this supplemental passed as soon as possible to aid the imminent liquidity needs that the island has.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) praised González Colón’s efforts to inform the members of Congress about the dire situation on the island. “And so as the strains have been put on FEMA and the disaster relief fund”, Scalise added, “Congress is going to continue to act this week to make sure that the resources are necessary to take care of the people have been affected by these storms.”
Rep. Kevin McCarthy acknowledged the need to aid the areas affected by natural disasters and addressed the next steps the House is going to take. “We will do the work this week to make sure we get the resources to them”, referencing to the areas affected, “but it will not be the last. This will take time to rebuild.” McCarthy stated that “Tomorrow, we’ll take up the supplemental disaster funding to continue the recovery reliefs from the recent hurricanes and the resources for the wildfires out west this summer. This Congress will continue to work with all those who are affected.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be visiting Puerto Rio on Friday and restated the importance to pass this disaster relief legislation. “Now we need to act”, stated Ryan, “We’ve got the disaster supplemental that the Trump administration requested. We’ve got that supplemental coming to the floor tomorrow. We posted the bill yesterday. We think it’s critical that we pass this legislation this week.” Emphasizing the role that Congress has, Ryan stated: “This is a time where our country needs to respond. This is a time where all levels and units of government need to respond. And this is a time where we, here in Congress, will respond because that is our responsibility.”
Ryan was later asked about the debt situation in Puerto Rico and how it should be dealt with, he said that “First of all, as you know, we have the PROMESA board in place. [L]ike we did in Katrina with New Orleans, when a local unit government gets its tax base wiped out, there is a loan program to help replace that tax base on an emergency basis. That’s something we just added to this bill, because their tax base has been wiped out, just like we did with respect to Katrina.”