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House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California, left, who will lead the 116th Congress, takes the gavel from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Washington - Yesterday, the 116th Congress began its session with uncertainty regarding the next short-term steps in the reconstruction process of Puerto Rico and without a clear resolution to reopen all federal government  offices.

Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), chairman of the Rules Committee, told El Nuevo Día that next week, the House - now controlled by Democrats - may consider a new appropriations bill to address the 2018 natural disasters.

McGovern said that any initiative for Puerto Rico related to the emergency caused by Hurricane María, in September 2017, may face opposition from the White House according to reports alleging that the President (of the United States) does not want new allocations for the island.”

Any legislation must also win the support of the Senate, where Republicans added two seats to gain a 53-47 majority.

Meanwhile, Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York), who since yesterday returned to chair the Small Business Committee, said that if, next week, a new appropriations package for natural disasters is introduced, then the initiative to renew emergency nutrition assistance funds should be promoted.

Velázquez referred to the request for $ 600 million in additional nutrition assistance funds that Governor Ricardo Rosselló took to a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last December. The new request for funds is intended to give continuity to a $ 1.27 billion allocation made in October 2017 that would run out by the end of March.

These funds are not related to the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) allocation. "We are going to do everything we can to promote new allocations," Velázquez said, before a reception she offered at the Small Business Committee, which she presided over from 2007 to 2010.

However, she maintained that Republicans - who control the White House and the Senate - have tried to stop funding for the island based on the excuse that  "Puerto Rico has not used" most of the more than $ 40 billion allocated for the island´s recovery.

According to Velazquez, it is obvious that funds were not used due to the obstacles to release them. She also questioned the requirement to have a total estimate of the costs before the release of FEMA funds for the development of permanent projects aimed at rebuilding the island´s infrastructure.

In addition, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has only approved the disbursement of some $ 400 million of the nearly $ 20 billion in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds without having delivered  the money.

Velázquez, main liaison with the Democratic leadership on Puerto Rican affairs said she will focus on ensuring that the funds allocated to Puerto Rico reach the island and that she will also focus on ensuring transparency and resolving Medicaid funds  (whose fiscal cliff is expected by June 2020) that help finance the health system.

Resident Commissioner in Washington Jennifer González indicated that, from the minority, she will work in a bipartisan manner to request new funds for recovery and reconstruction, in healthcare, veterans and infrastructure, among other areas. For McGovern, facing upcoming debates, it will be important that González - affiliated with the Republicans - "raise her voice" before Trump's government.

A meeting with Grijalva

At a meeting with the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources Democrat Raúl Grijalva, the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, advocated for a mechanism to provide transparency regarding allocations and disbursements related to the island´s recovery and reconstruction

Cruz suggested that the Committee on Natural Resources work with its staff or make a request to federal offices to provide an information system that allows Puerto Rican citizens and officials to follow the island´s reconstruction process.

"A mechanism that shows when a federal office has delivered money, and what the government of Puerto Rico has done with that money," the mayor said in an interview after the meeting with the chairman of the Committee with main jurisdiction over the island´s affairs.

The meeting lasted for about half an hour.

Pelosi elected House Speaker

At the beginning of the 116th Congress, a majority of 220 Democrats elected Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. Twelve of her Democratic colleagues voted for other candidates and three voted "present." But, Pelosi - the only woman who has been House speaker - comfortably outdid the leader of the Republican minority, Kevin McCarthy (California), who won 192 votes.

Last night, after Pelosi, 78, was elected, the House was considering resolutions that would allow financing the U.S. government for the rest of the federal fiscal year, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which would be extended until February 8.

The idea of the Democratic leadership is to grant one more month to continue negotiations regarding President Trump’s demand to allocate $ 5.7 million for the U.S.-México border wall. However, the White House issued a veto threat veto the Democratic resolution to end the partial shutdown which began on December 21, 2018 which today marks its 14th day.


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