Trump slams Puerto Rico, as House weighs re­lief

Jerusalem Post - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS - • By AMANDA BECKER

WASH­ING­TON (Reuters) – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pushed back on Thurs­day against fed­eral aid for Puerto Rico as the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives pre­pared to weigh $36.5 bil­lion in emer­gency re­lief for the US ter­ri­tory and other hur­ri­cane-hit ar­eas as well as fire-rav­aged Cal­i­for­nia.

Law­mak­ers are ex­pected to ap­prove the bi­par­ti­san mea­sure that will also pro­vide re­lief to the storm-struck ar­eas of Florida, Texas and the US Vir­gin Is­lands, and lead­ers of both ma­jor par­ties have lauded the bill.

Trump, in sev­eral early Twit­ter posts, how­ever, crit­i­cized Puerto Rico for “a to­tal lack of “ac­count­abil­ity,” say­ing “elec­tric and all in­fra­struc­ture was dis­as­ter be­fore hur­ri­canes.”

While he noted it was up to “Congress to de­cide how much to spend,” he said: “We can­not keep FEMA, the Mil­i­tary & the First Re­spon­ders, who have been amaz­ing (un­der the most dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances) in P.R. for­ever!”

The con­tent and tim­ing of the com­ments, as the is­land strug­gles with the storm’s af­ter­math, prompted swift back­lash from some Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, who said such a move would amount to aban­don­ing US cit­i­zens.

“There is still dev­as­ta­tion, Amer­i­cans are still dy­ing. FEMA needs to stay un­til the job is done,” Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Chuck Schumer replied on Twit­ter.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the White House did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on what Trump meant by his tweets.

Repub­li­can US Rep. Scott Perry de­fended Trump’s state­ment, telling CNN fed­eral as­sis­tance was meant to be fi­nite and that it was “rea­son­able” for the is­land to even­tu­ally take up its own gov­er­nance.

The bill in­cludes $18.7b. for the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency’s dis­as­ter re­lief fund. Of that amount, $4.9b. is ear­marked for loans to lo­cal gov­ern­ments to en­sure that the cash-strapped Puerto Rico can keep gov­ern­ment pro­grams op­er­at­ing be­yond Oc­to­ber 31.

Other funds in­clude $576.5 mil­lion for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s wild­fire con­trol ef­forts. Some $16b. would go to­ward the Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram to help it cover claims af­ter reach­ing its bor­row­ing limit.

Once passed by the Repub­li­can-led House, the Se­nate, also con­trolled by Repub­li­cans, is ex­pected to take up the pack­age later this month af­ter it re­turns from a week­long re­cess.

Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, how­ever, said more money would likely be needed later.

“These funds are vi­tal right now, in the near term, to get the aid where it is needed most,” said House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rod­ney Frel­inghuy­sen, a Repub­li­can.

Demo­cratic Rep. Ny­dia Velázquez of New York, which has a large Puerto Ri­can com­mu­nity, said the re­lief pack­age was “just the start” of fed­eral aid to the is­land, where large ar­eas re­main with­out elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter three weeks af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria made land­fall.

Puerto Rico is bur­dened with nearly $72b. in pre-hur­ri­cane debt be­ing over­seen by a fed­er­ally cre­ated over­sight board.

Velázquez said the funds ear­marked for loans to lo­cal gov­ern­ments would as­sist Puerto Rico’s “liq­uid­ity cri­sis” and that steps must be taken to en­sure that cred­i­tors are un­able to ac­cess funds meant for dis­as­ter re­lief.

(Reuters)

PRES­I­DENT DON­ALD TRUMP smiles af­ter sign­ing an Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der to make it eas­ier for Amer­i­cans to buy bare-bone health in­sur­ance plans and cir­cum­vent Oba­macare rules at the White House yes­ter­day.

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