WASHINGTON - The House Committee in Natural Resources will start analysing actions to be taken regarding the recovery of Puerto Rico, which will include reviewing the implementation of PROMESA law.
"It's all going to be on the table," said yesterday Republican Rob Bishop (Utah), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, who led a roundtable discussion with committee members and other congressmen on the possibility of enacting legislation.
Bishop, however, seemed inclined to maintain "the structure we already have."
During the closed-door session, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and delegate Stacey Plaskett submitted reports on the catastrophes caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, respectively.
Shortly after, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent Congress a resolution that would allocate $ 16 billion in emergency funds to pay debt claims under the flood insurance program and another $ 12.77 billion to finance the fund to address disasters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Families affected by Hurricane Maria and local governments can claim federal assistance under the FEMA fund.
Resident Commissioner said that the possibility of promoting that the federal government authorizes an emergency short-term loan to prevent the government of Puerto Rico from becoming insolvent this month is under discussion. The other option is to consider if it is possible to be authorized by executive order.
Gonzalez noted that it is urgent to provide liquidity to the government. "How will the governor handle the situation without money?" she asked.
In a press call, prior to the roundtable, Bishop said that the House Committee on Natural Resources will be in charge of possible legislation for "the overall strategy of the reconstruction process" of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
About the catastrophe, Bishop said that it is clear that the Board in charge of public finances in Puerto Rico will have to "revise" the 10-year fiscal plan. "The devastation that has taken place changes the dynamics," said Bishop, whose commission has primary jurisdiction over Puerto Rico affairs.
Raúl Grijalva, a Democratic spokesman on the committee, assured that "it is not time to enforce the PROMESA Law." “I said let’s open it up and see what is working and see what is not applicable in this situation, what we need to suspend,” pointed out Grijalva, a critic of the public policy of austerity implemented by the Board.
The president of the federal Board, José Carrión III, has recognized that, after the devastation caused by Maria, it is necessary to rethink everything. The Board has already authorized the government of Puerto Rico to re-allocate $ 1 billion to address the emergency triggered by the cyclone.
"The Board has to focus on the reconstruction process," indicated Republican Garett Graves (Louisiana).
Both Bishop and Gonzalez said that the collapse of the electricity grid should lead to the construction of a modern system for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). Under federal regulations, FEMA can only fund the repair of the current system.
"One of the things we know is that FEMA can only rebuild what was originally there. If we want to do things better, we will have to give more space and speed up the process. Personally, I want it rebuilt to make it better. It was a fragile infrastructure. We have to fix that. I think that is something that is under the jurisdiction of our committee... I hope we have good ideas on how that process can move forward faster," stated Bishop.
Bishop's intention -which worries the Democrats- is also to use the crisis in Puerto Rico to amend environmental standards.
Bishop said he was interested in reviewing laws that could curb a rapid recovery in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and said he would evaluate possible "additional tools" and "how to avoid barriers."
"The last thing we want is for the government to be in the middle. As the mayor of San Juan (Carmen Yulin Cruz) said recently, we have to cut bureaucracy. In the coming days, we will examine these bureaucratic impediments with the idea of ??accelerating recovery. We will hold hearings, but we are not asking officials to come and declare in Washington D.C., when now they responding to the emergency, "he said.
On the other hand, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was scheduled to approve last night the bill that reauthorizes the Federal Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), which proposes to allocate $ 1 billion in Medicaid funds to Puerto Rico. The Senate Finance Committee approved its own version of CHIP, without funding for the Island, so if there were no changes, the measure could end up in a conference between members of both legislative chambers.
Resident Commissioner said that once the bill is approved in the lower house, probably next week, she will press in the Senate.
The new allocation would allow Puerto Rico to postpone until the beginning of 2019 the drop in the abyss that causes the end of Medicaid funds provided by the Obamacare law and which will be depleted in the coming months.
Meanwhile, González announced that she will accompany Vice President Michael Pence during his trip today to Orlando (Florida) and tomorrow to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Pence had already announced that he will go to Puerto Rico on Friday to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
In Orlando, Pence will meet with members of the Puerto Rican community, said Jennifer Gonzalez. Pence will arrive in San Juan three days after the controversial visit of President Donald Trump.
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