CHN: Disaster Aid for Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Others on Hold Until December

Months after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida, the need for additional funding to help these communities rebuild is still great. The Trump administration is expected to send another request to Congress the week of Nov. 13 for supplemental aid for these and other areas hit by natural disasters, including wildfires. In anticipation of this, 28 Democratic senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), on Nov. 3 sent a letter to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney with their wish list for what should be in the package. The list included funding for housing assistance, food assistance, public health assistance and Medicaid support, and infrastructure repairs, as well as assistance with Puerto Rico’s existing debt crisis. They also insist the relief come in the form of emergency spending, without requiring cuts in other spending areas to offset the funds, as the White House and conservatives have said they want. Offsetting the funding would break longstanding congressional practice and contradict the definition of emergency spending included in the law.

The bill is not expected to pass Congress until December, despite the fact that many U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still without power, water, adequate food, and shelter. Advocates are concerned that the delay will not only hurt these citizens, but it may make passage of aid more complicated if it gets wrapped up in other year-end congressional priorities. The Washington Post also reported that, because Puerto Rico receives SNAP/food stamp funding in the form of a block grant with a capped annual amount unlike states on the mainland, aid cannot significantly increase in times of disaster. In Texas and Florida, the USDA issued additional food stamps to families who already receive them, and the Disaster-SNAP program provided temporary food stamps to families who do not already receive benefits. However, part of the disaster relief package enacted by Congress in October included $1.27 billion in disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico. Advocates have organized a Unity March for Puerto Rico in D.C. to take place on Nov. 19 to call attention to the plight of Puerto Ricans and demand change.