Washington - The U.S. House Democratic majority proposed a $3.35 billion additional emergency spending package for the island following a recent series of earthquakes and they also propose that funds approved after Hurricane María can be used to mitigate the damage caused by the recent earthquakes.
At a time when there is a very slow and restricted disbursement of the $20.5 billion in funds through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) authorized after Hurricane María, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Democrat Nita Lowey (NY), proposes that the supplemental “allows comingling of funds provided in the legislation and previous emergency supplementals.”
The bill, to be discussed in the next congressional debate on assistance to the island, seeks to allocate $2 billion in CDBG-DR funds, $1.25 billion to repair roads and $100 million to address needs in the area of education.
House Democrats unveiled the bill at a time when President Donald Trump, responding to a request submitted by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, declared six municipalities - Guánica, Guayanilla, Ponce, Peñuelas, Yauco, and Utuado – as disaster areas.
The bill requires the “Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in consultation with other Federal agencies, to complete the consultation on electrical grid funding for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands within 30 days and to issue a Federal Register notice within 60 days.”
In publishing the Federal Register notice on the use of another $8.285 billion in CDBG-DR for mitigation projects, HUD did not allow to use those funds - or another $304 million approved to match costs of initiatives in that program - to be used for improvements to the power grid.
According to a Trump government official, the fact that 99 percent of the island's customers have power shows that there is no emergency in that area.
Democrats want action on the issue and seek to fight HUD-imposed restrictions.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democrats Robert Menéndez, Elizabeth Warren, and Catherine Cortéz Masto asked the leadership of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to convene hearings to oversee the disbursement process for CDBG-DR funds allocated for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.