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Washington - Yesterday, President Donald Trump signed into law the budget bill  and the allocations to mitigate disasters. The new law will open the door to the efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico, which has faced the worst catastrophe in its modern history.

After some struggles, early in the morning,  Congress ratified  the legislation that could guarantee the Island - if Puerto Rico overcomes the administrative obstacles that have been imposed- about $ 15 billion in direct allocations, as emergency measures after Hurricane Maria.

The law allocates $ 89 billion in disaster funds, the largest grant awarded to mitigate damages caused in 2017 by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and forest fires.

The bill put an end to a partial  the federal government shutdown - which lasted about nine hours - extended the US budget until March 23, it increased the spending levels for two years by $ 300 billion and raised the federal debt cap until March 2019.

At a time when the Treasury is still waiting to release part of the line of credit of up to $ 4.9 billion approved last October, the bill allocates - as of September 2019, for two federal fiscal years - $ 4.8 billion in Medicaid funds , and $ 11 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program(CDBG) of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Some $ 2 billion of CDBG funds will be used for the power grid. "We need as much money as possible to reinvest in the economy," said the director of Public Policy of the Center for a New Economy (CNE), Sergio Marxuach.

RELIEF TO THE FISCAL PLAN

Medicaid funds - although $ 1.2 billion will depend on the US Secretary of Health and Human Services certifying in July that Puerto Rico complies with anti-fraud regulations and the compilation of the program's statistics- can release about $ 1.8 billion that the Island's government plans to allocate to the Mi Salud ("My Health") program from now until September 2019. In the short term,  Governor Ricardo Rosselló said that  Medicaid funds mean a relief to the fiscal plan that must be submitted to the Board on Monday.

The funds would be disbursed just when the healthcare system was about to fall into an annual fiscal gap of $ 1.2 billion.

The legislation maintained the language that obliges the government to submit a recovery plan for 12 to 24 months, which must be reviewed monthly by FEMA and the Board. The law validates the Board's power to review any project that reaches $ 10 million.

The Senate passed the bill with 71 votes in favor and 28 against. Then the lower House ratified the legislation by 240-186.

CONGRESS VOTES

Due to the struggle between the Democrats and the Republican majority in demand of a bill that normalizes the lives of at least 760,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents, known as "dreamers", many Democrats voted against the legislation.

Among those Democrats who have been demanding a plan to rebuild the Island, Puerto Ricans José Serrano (New York), Nydia Velázquez (New York) and Luis Gutiérrez (Illinois), Senators Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) ), and Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) voted against the legislation because of the dreamers' issue.

Republicans Raul Labrador (Idaho), born in Puerto Rico, and Ileana Ros Lehtinen (Florida), of Cuban descent, also opposed the bill. Labrador's objection was based on the cost of the budget measure.

"This is the time to vote not for ideologies, (but) for the people, for American citizens across all states. For the states and territories that were hit by disasters last year, "said Commissioner Jenniffer González while taking her turn on the House floor in favor of the legislation. In San Juan, at a press conference, she said that "unfortunately, Puerto Ricans voted against it."

Democrat Darren Soto (Florida), the only vote in favor of the measure among those Puerto Ricans in Congress, said that speaker Paul Ryan wanted  Democrats to be forced to choose between supporting the funds for the island and the call to allow, at least, an open debate on the floor about the Dream Act.

 “I voted for this budget plan because it was the best choice for our district. This was, however, an agonizing decision. I am enraged that Speaker Ryan intentionally pit DREAMers against Central Floridians and Puerto Rican evacuees who need disaster relief immediately. This should have never happened,” Soto said.

The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, warned her Democratic colleagues that, in this voting,  they had  a mechanism of pressure on the dreamers, because Republicans would not have the votes to approve the measure by themselves. Even so, 73 of her colleagues backed the measure, and allowed it to be approved.

A total of 167 House Republicans voted in favor. Meanwhile, 67 Republicans and 119 Democrats voted against it.

In the Senate, the leader of the Republican majority, Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), announced that, as he promised in January, he will begin next week a broad debate on a bill that seeks to normalize the lives of the 'dreamers' and enhance security in US borders

 Among the senators, 37 Democrats and 34 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Meanwhile, 16 Republicans and 12 members of the Democratic caucus were against it. "I understand the Democrats who  have fought hard for the 'dreamers,'" said Senate PNP spokesman Carmelo Rios, who was in Washington yesterday in his role of the next president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.

While the Democratic vote was marked by the demand for a solution for the 'dreamers', Republicans who rejected the measure, in general, were concerned about the $ 300 billion increase in budget spending levels.

The next resolution of supplementary allocations to mitigate disasters, the fourth in response to recent hurricanes, could find Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands alone. In the bill that became law, they were along with powerful states like Texas, Florida and California.

Commissioner Gonzalez believes that the next resolution can be debated between April and May. "It helped that the funds were tied to the resolution that gives continuity to the budget, and to disaster allocations that benefit Texas and Florida," states with significant political power, Marxuach said.

When the bill was passed, Republicans and Democrats congratulated mainly their own.

COMPLIMENTS

Commissioner González distributed statements where Speaker Ryan and Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) praise her. In the House and in San Juan, Gonzalez complimented them.

Governor Rosselló's team recognizes that it depended on Democrats such as the Senate minority leader, Charles Schumer, Senator Bill Nelson, and the minority spokesperson on the Committee on Appropriations, Patrick Leahy. But, the governor also praised his Commissioner, and she praised him. Republican leader McConnell has highlighted Rubio's work; Schumer did the same with Nelson's, and the pressure of the Puerto Ricans Velázquez and Serrano. “This is a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from last summer’s devastating storms,” said Nelson

Faced with criticism of the most conservatives to the legislation , Rubio responded “While fiscal responsibility remains a top priority for me, I voted for this bill because we must make good on our promise to deliver long-overdue disaster relief to the people of Florida and Puerto Rico, and it is imperative that we fully fund and rebuild our military.” 

"Everyone put their two cents," said the executive director of the Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), Carlos Mercader.

Mercader called attention to the fact that the original proposal submitted by President Trump suggested allocating $ 44 billion. Even though, when it was passed in December in the House with an allocation of $ 81 billion, it was still designed primarily for Texas and Florida. Democrats blocked it in the Senate, considering it insufficient.

Since then, the island´s authorities have requested to include Medicaid funds and direct allocations.

The Puerto Rican government expects the approved law to be the first disbursement - at a time when Rosselló has stressed that $ 17 billion is required to modernize the power grid, and up to $ 94, including $ 30 billion from the traditional FEMA aid program - for the Island´s recovery.


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