The Capitol of the United States (semisquare-x3)
The Capitol of the United States. (AP)

Washington - Last night, Congress passed a long-delayed disaster aid bill that had been held up in the Senate for four months and that includes nearly $1.4 billion for Puerto Rico.

The U.S. House backed the legislation by a vote of 354-58, easily surpassing the two-thirds margin needed to pass a bill under suspension of the rules. The 222 members present of the Democratic majority and 132 Republicans voted in favor.

The measure, which was approved by the Senate on May 23 and is now heading to President Donald Trump for his signature, will provide $19.1 billion to mitigate the natural disasters of 2018 and the first months of 2019.

 

As part of the package for Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane María, the bill directly provides the island with $600 million in nutrition assistance funds and $304 million under the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR).

It also clarifies language from previous legislation to warn FEMA that it must fund the repair of damage in critical public facilities prior to Hurricane María if that results in more resilience. That could represent another $500 million.

Although he vehemently opposed sending new funds for Puerto Rico, President Trump tweeted from London that "Farmers, Puerto Rico and all will be very happy."

He seemed to confirm that will sign the legislation with this tweet.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman, Democrat Nita Lowey (New York), said that Trump's refusal to grant more funds to the island - which had influence over Republicans in the Senate - caused the bills approved in the House in January and May not to advance.

 Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González praised Republicans, including President Trump for agreeing to sign the measure, and also Democrats for the final agreement.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rican Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York) warned that "Puerto Rico still has a long distance to travel in recovering not just from the 2017 hurricanes but years of economic neglect."

Allocations for the island in the bill include certain restrictions. For example, the $304 million in CDBG-DR funds will not be available until after October 11, once the government of Puerto Rico and FEMA have reached an agreement on the cost of permanent works to be financed under Section 428 of the Stafford Act.


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