Washington – In a few weeks, when the House Democratic majority begins the process to pass the bill seeking new emergency relief funds for Puerto Rico following last month's earthquakes, Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González will be pushing to include nutrition assistance in that legislation.
“Nutrition assistance and food security are an integral part of any recovery,” said Jenniffer González in a letter sent January 21 to the House Appropriations Committee Chairman Nita Lowey and to the ranking member of that powerful House Committee, Representative Kay Granger. In that letter, González requests to include funds to help supplement the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP)
Following the disaster caused by Hurricane María on the island, Congress passed two bills allocating a total of $1.87 billion in nutrition assistance funds for the island. According to the Family Department, the most recent allocation totaling $600 million, runs out in August.
When the federal government issued the major disaster declaration for six municipalities in southern and central areas of Puerto Rico- extended to 16 now - the Resident Commissioner estimated that about 290,000 people could need nutrition assistance following the earthquakes that keep thousands of people homeless and unemployed.
Democrat Lowey filed a bill on January 16 seeking to allocate $3.35 billion to Puerto Rico and would also allow using previous Hurricane María emergency relief funds to address the emergency triggered by the earthquakes that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and severely impacted hundreds of structures.
The Democrats bill seeks to grant the Puerto Rican government $2 billion in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery funds (CDBG-DR), $1.25 billion for road repairs, and $100 million for educational needs.
González supported the Democratic bill but said it is important to coordinate with the Senate and the White House.
González said she does not think they have coordinated with the Republican-controlled Senate.
President Donald Trump, who continues to describe Puerto Rico government officials as corrupt, has stopped and questioned funds for the island, as happened recently when he forced to reduced new Medicaid funds by half.
The Democratic bill requests the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) - which administers CDBG-DR funds in consultation with other agencies - to publish within 60 days the Register Notice on the use of $1.932 billion in relief funds that Congress approved to help rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid under that program to address disasters.
When HUD published the notice on the use of another $8.285 billion through CDBG-DR funds for mitigation projects and offering an agreement to begin disbursing another $8.221 billion package, the agency stated that those funds cannot be used for improvements to the power grid.
HUD guidelines also include new restrictions, requiring each project to be approved by the new Federal Financial Monitor for CDBG-DR funds, Robert Couch, and by the Board overseeing the island's public finances.
HUD requirements also include audits, monthly reports on the use of funds, and complying with the island government's property registry reform, among other requirements.