White House re­quests $5B to ease Puerto Rico

El Dorado News-Times - - National -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — The White House on Tues­day asked Con­gress for $5 bil­lion to ease a fis­cal cri­sis strik­ing the govern­ment of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Maria.

Puerto Rico's cen­tral govern­ment and var­i­ous mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and other lo­cal gov­ern­ments are suf­fer­ing un­sus­tain­able cash short­falls as Maria has choked off rev­enues and strained re­sources.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion's re­quest, so far de­liv­ered in­for­mally, would pro­vide $4.9 bil­lion for Puerto Rico and its lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions.

The White House also re­quested $150 mil­lion to help Puerto Rico with the 10 per­cent match re­quired for Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency dis­as­ter re­lief.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial con­firmed the re­quest, re­quir­ing anonymity be­cause it is not yet of­fi­cial. The of­fi­cial stressed that ju­ris­dic­tions other than Puerto Rico are el­i­gi­ble, but ac­knowl­edged the cash-strapped ter­ri­tory is sure to re­ceive the bulk of the money.

On Satur­day, Puerto Rico Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello sent a let­ter to law­mak­ers ask­ing for $500 mil­lion for the com­mu­nity dis­as­ter loan pro­gram, which is de­signed to help lo­cal gov­ern­ments deal with tax rev­enue short­falls caused by dis­as­ters. He re­quested al­most $4 bil­lion in other aid.

"In ad­di­tion to the im­me­di­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, Puerto Rico is on the brink of a mas­sive liq­uid­ity cri­sis that will in­ten­sify in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture," Ros­sello wrote.

Hours af­ter the re­quest, the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee un­veiled a $36.5 bil­lion emer­gency spend­ing bill that merged Tues­day's re­quest with a pro­posal that the White House sent to Capi­tol Hill last week to re­plen­ish dis­as­ter funds and ease a cash crunch in the fed­eral flood in­sur­ance pro­gram. A Thurs­day vote is ex­pected.

"Th­ese funds are ur­gently needed to get re­sources to fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties that are still suf­fer­ing. This leg­is­la­tion will con­tinue im­me­di­ate re­lief ef­forts, and help jump-start the re­build­ing process," said Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rod­ney Frel­inghuy­sen, R-N.J.

Puerto Rico was al­ready suf­fer­ing from a lengthy re­ces­sion and its govern­ment was be­set with fis­cal strug­gles to be­gin with. A fi­nan­cial con­trol board is over­see­ing its debt problems and aus­ter­ity plans.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion asked for $29 bil­lion last week for FEMA dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts and to pay fed­eral flood in­sur­ance claims.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy said a vote is likely this week. The White House also re­quested $577 mil­lion to re­plen­ish fed­eral fire­fight­ing ac­counts de­pleted by this year's bad spate of western wild­fires.

The lead­er­ship-backed House aid bill ig­nores re­quests made last week by the Texas and Flor­ida del­e­ga­tions last week for tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in ad­di­tional as­sis­tance.

Texas re­quested $19 bil­lion in Har­vey re­lief, while Flor­ida asked for $27 bil­lion for Hur­ri­cane Irma dam­age. House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is­sued a state­ment Tues­day that said fund­ing is also needed to help Cal­i­for­nia re­cover from on­go­ing wild­fires.

But GOP lead­ers want to avoid costly add-ons that could slow the pack­age, though the Sen­ate could add fund­ing to the mea­sure as it did when ad­vanc­ing a $15 bil­lion aid pack­age last month.

Con­gress last month ap­proved a $15 bil­lion first in­stall­ment for dis­as­ter re­lief.

Fi­nal es­ti­mates for the mas­sive re­lief and re­build­ing ef­fort won't be ready for a while, but a huge year-end re­lief and re­con­struc­tion mea­sure is ex­pected.

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