Authorities estimate that Hurricane María caused more than $ 100 billion in damages in Puerto Rico. (semisquare-x3)
Authorities estimate that Hurricane María caused more than $ 100 billion in damages in Puerto Rico. (GFR Media)

Washington - Yesterday, the House leadership welcomed the proposal made by Puerto Rican authorities to allocate an additional $ 600 million in emergency nutrition assistance, as part of the efforts to mitigate the damage caused by Hurricane María.

In proposing legislation to mitigate the 2018 natural disasters, Democrat Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, also included Governor Ricardo Rosselló´s request to exempt the island from the cost of part of debris removal works and emergency measures funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The bill also proposes $ 239 million for reconstruction projects of aqueduct and sewer systems impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and María, which may mainly benefit Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

According to the bill, the $ 600 million in nutrition assistance would be effective until September 2020.

These funds, which are not related to the $ 1,8 billion granted annually, through the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), will allow the continuity to the $ 1,27 billion allocated in October 2017, which will lapse by the end of March.

In a letter that Jennifer González sent to the House Appropriations and Rules Committees, she said that this additional funding allows the government of Puerto Rico to increase funds to NAP participants, in addition to granting funds to another 153,000 low-income people.

The Appropriation Disaster Relief Bill proposes a total of $12,140 billion mainly to address the 2018 natural disasters such as the hurricanes that hit Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as wildfires in California.

According to Lowey, the bill also includes language that will help transfer unused funds from the program destined to cover tuition costs for displaced students, to help fund the repair of universities facilities.

On Thursday, Democrat Jim McGovern, chairman of the House Rules Committee told El Nuevo Día that next week, the House majority could call to vote the new bill to address 2018 natural disasters. But he also warned about reports alleging that President Donald Trump wants to stop federal relief funds for Puerto Rico. 

However, Democrat Nydia Velázquez (New York) anticipated the inclusion of NAP funds, which, in December, Governor Ricardo Rosselló took to a meeting with now speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Velázquez along with Senators Robert Menéndez (New Jersey), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Representatives Darren Soto (Florida) and Charlie Crist (Florida) also sent a letter to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees leaders supporting the request of the island authorities.

On Thursday, Commissioner Gonzalez renewed these efforts in a letter to Lowey, McGovern, to Kay Granger (Texas), Republican spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee, and minority leader of the Rules Committee Tom Cole (Arkansas). 

"We are very excited to see the inclusion of these funds for Puerto Rico in the bill," said Lillian Rodríguez López, spokesperson for the Coalition for Food Security – Puerto Rico, calling the US Senate Republican leadership to endorse the Democratic proposal.

Like Commissioner González, Velázquez – main liaison of the Democratic leadership for the island's fiscal and economic affairs – questioned the delay in the release of funds from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the fact that Puerto Rico has been forced to present total cost estimates before having access to FEMA funds for permanent projects.

Authorities estimate that Hurricane María caused more than $ 100 billion in damages in Puerto Rico with a 2,975 death toll.

So far, the federal government allocated more than $ 40 billion in funds to mitigate the disaster caused by the hurricane. But, it has not distributed funds intended mainly to reconstruction and permanent improvement projects.

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