U.S. House ap­proves dis­as­ter funds as Trump crit­i­cizes Puerto Rico

Stabroek News - - REGIONAL NEWS -

WASH­ING­TON, (Reuters) - A new pack­age of U.S. dis­as­ter as­sis­tance sailed through the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives yes­ter­day, de­spite Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ex­press­ing im­pa­tience with hav­ing to de­vote fed­eral re­sources for hur­ri­cane-rav­aged Puerto Rico’s re­cov­ery.

The Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled House voted 353-69 to ap­prove $36.5 bil­lion in emer­gency re­lief for Puerto Rico and other ar­eas hit by re­cent dis­as­ters. Sen­ate ap­proval is ex­pected in com­ing weeks.

Trump and his aides on Thurs­day sug­gested that there would be a limit to how much help Puerto Rico could ex­pect from Wash­ing­ton to solve some of its longer-term problems, although Trump is ex­pected to sign the lat­est emer­gency pack­age.

The White House on Thurs­day evening is­sued a state­ment say­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was “pleased” that the House had ap­proved the re­lief funds and pledged to work with Con­gress go­ing for­ward to pro­vide re­sources to re­cover and re­build.

Puerto Rico has been grap­pling with a bankruptcy cri­sis and owes $72 bil­lion to cred­i­tors.

Dev­as­ta­tion from hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria was ex­ac­er­bated by di­lap­i­dated in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing a power grid largely de­stroyed by the storms.

In a morn­ing tweet, Trump warned that the United States “can­not keep FEMA, the Mil­i­tary & the First Re­spon­ders, who have been amaz­ing (un­der the most dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances) in P.R. for­ever!”

FEMA is the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, which over­sees dis­as­ter re­sponse in the United States.

Pres­i­den­tial aides later on Thurs­day pro­vided as­sur­ances that Wash­ing­ton will not aban­don Puerto Rico, a Caribbean U.S. ter­ri­tory with a pop­u­la­tion of 3.4 mil­lion.

All 69 votes against the aid pack­age came from Trump’s fel­low Repub­li­cans. Con­gress is ex­pected to con­sider ad­di­tional aid in the com­ing weeks but the de­bate could grow more con­tentious.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is sched­uled to lead a bi­par­ti­san con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion to Puerto Rico on Fri­day.

Some con­ser­va­tives dis­played early signs of spend­ing fa­tigue.

Re­pub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tom Cole, a se­nior mem­ber of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said some law­mak­ers have urged him to find ways to off­set the costs of dis­as­ter re­lief.

Be­sides the lat­est aid pack­age, Con­gress last month ap­proved $15.25 bil­lion to help with ear­lier storm dam­ages, in­clud­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey’s im­pact in Texas, and wild­fires.

“There is some con­cern about can we cou­ple some of this (dis­as­ter aid) with re­form mea­sures,” Cole told Reuters on Wed­nes­day. That could in­clude sav­ings to a na­tional flood in­sur­ance pro­gram or other steps, he added.

Be­sides help­ing Puerto Rico re­cover from Maria, the bill would also pro­vide funds for storm-struck ar­eas of Flor­ida, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and fire-rav­aged Cal­i­for­nia.

Cole said the price tag could rise as re­lief ef­forts tran­si­tion from emer­gency re­sponse to re­build­ing.

REUTERS/Shan­non Sta­ple­ton

A cou­ple walks by a dam­aged tree in the Hur­ri­cane Maria af­fected area of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oc­to­ber 12, 2017.

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