Washington - The U.S.House Democratic majority's plan to respond to Puerto Rico's needs after this month's earthquakes now seeks to allocate $4.67 billion in supplemental emergency funds.
The legislation, in turn, will allow to integrate these new federal funds with those granted after the 2017 hurricanes and sets a schedule for the Donald Trump administration to make most of the money available to the island.
The bill could also have a hundreds of millions of dollars impact, as it includes tax proposals pending or approved in the Ways and Means Committee, such as subsidies to the Puerto Rican government to boost the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and to provide full access to the Child Tax Credit (CTC).
The bill to address the damage caused by the recent earthquakes - which damaged hundreds of homes and other structures and kept thousands of people displaced - was officially introduced in the House Tuesday.
The bill introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, increased from $3.35 billion to $4.67 billion the assistance that would be available to the Puerto Rican government, mainly through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR).
Under this bill - which the Trump administration considers unnecessary at this time - Lowey proposes to allocate $3.26 billion in CDBG-DR program funds, $1.25 billion for repairs to road systems and $100 million to “the meet educational needs of individuals affected by recent disasters and emergencies.”
The bill also provides $40 million in nutrition assistance - which would be available through September 30, 2021 - $15 million for “technical assistance to enhance real-time situational awareness and continued recovery support of the electric grid,” and $6.75 million to conduct earthquake risk analysis, “enhance long-term energy planning, improve energy sector situational awareness, and strengthen cybersecurity of critical infrastructure.”
"House Democrats’ emergency supplemental appropriations bill provides targeted assistance to help families and communities recover from these devastating earthquakes and puts the island on a better path to long-term recovery," Lowey said.
According to the bill, the first $2 billion in CDBG-DR funds - which the mayors requested to receive directly - would have to be released to Puerto Rico´s central government within 240 days, and 45 percent of the funds would have to be allocated to mitigation projects. The funds have to be committed within 90 days.
Of the $20.5 billion in CDBG-DR funds approved following Hurricane María, the government of Puerto Rico only has $1.507 billion available.
The government of Puerto Rico is still seeking an agreement on cost estimates for "permanent works" to be funded by FEMA, - the other significant funding source for the island´s reconstruction process - some $40 billion.
Lowey's bill proposes to use previous allocations aimed at mitigating the disaster caused by Hurricane María to assist with the earthquake emergency, once action plans already approved have been reviewed.
The Democratic bill requires the federal Housing Department (HUD) to issue within 60 days a Federal Register notice on the use of $1.932 billion in CDBG-DR funds approved by Congress to help rebuild the island´s power grid.
The legislation incorporates subsidies approved in June 2019 in the Ways and Means Committee to largely finance the implementation of EITC and CTC credits, which can have an impact of more than $800 million.
The bill seeks to make the increase in rum tax reimbursement permanent- guaranteeing 46 cents to the Conservation Trust -; revives, for the earthquakes emergency, federal credits to employers who have retained employees; and allocates $500 million for credits for investments in low-income communities and $50 million in state housing credit.
Although the Trump administration has rejected the legislation, former Resident Commissioner in Washington Pedro Pierluisi considered - after meeting Tuesday with the Democratic leadership of Congress - that the White House opposition to this bill will weaken the moment the U.S. President and Republicans require the help of Senate Democrats for a bill that they want to approve urgently.
"I see a very determined Democratic leadership," he said, after meeting Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Senator Martin Heinrich, and other Democratic lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Washington Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González thanked Congresswoman Lowey for including nutrition assistance funds in the bill.
Lowey suggested $40 million in nutrition assistance funds, at a time when the Puerto Rican government is still distributing another $600 million approved in June 2019.