US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters upon his return to the White House on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC after spending the weekend in Florida, declaring he had been completely exonerated after his campaign was cleared of colluding with Russia in the 2016 election campaign. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump takes swipe at Puerto Rico relief aid
01:57 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, is Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion articles at CNN.

CNN  — 

President Trump’s well-documented contempt for Puerto Rico is being felt far beyond the island. Billions of dollars in assistance for disaster-stricken communities across America languish, as they have for months, over the President’s refusal to compromise on additional relief for Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

We need to act quickly. Months have passed since hurricanes struck the South, wildfires swept across the West Coast, and typhoons pummeled US territories in the Pacific. Nearly two years have passed since Hurricane Maria – the deadliest natural disaster in the US in 100 years – devastated Puerto Rico, resulting in approximately 3,000 deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damage.

During the government shutdown in January, House Democrats first passed an emergency appropriations bill to address these disasters. But that bill, along with a Republican-backed proposal, both failed this month due to a dispute over how to allocate federal money for disaster relief. President Trump has exacerbated the conflict by refusing to provide money Puerto Rico desperately needs to rebuild and recover.

In the meantime, more disasters have struck – like the serious Midwest floods that hit Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri last month. Thousands of homes throughout the region have been impacted, roads and levees have been greatly damaged, and farming has been upended – and that may just be the beginning, as flooding is predicted to continue through the spring.

That’s why House Democrats have introduced an expanded, comprehensive package that will address both the needs of Puerto Rico and the Midwest. Our latest emergency supplemental – H.R. 2157 – is similar to the bill that already passed the House, with an additional $3 billion for urgent needs following the floods in the Midwest.

Much of that funding – $1.5 billion – would be distributed through the US Army Corps of Engineers for repairs to Corps projects damaged by flooding and natural disasters.

Another $1 billion is allocated for Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery, with language ensuring the money is spent quickly to help communities rebuild housing, businesses, and public infrastructure in the most impacted and distressed areas affected by major natural disasters.

Finally, $500 million would go to the Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Conservation Program, providing emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.

Senate Republicans will point to their own disaster aid package to argue that they are in fact negotiating in good faith. But so far, their offers have drastically shortchanged Puerto Rico by providing funding for nutrition assistance, with virtually nothing to help the island rebuild.

This is unacceptable. We don’t pick and choose which Americans to help in times of need. And Puerto Rico is still very much in need of federal assistance to repair its schools, rebuild its electric grid, restore its homes, and more.

We have a responsibility to deliver this assistance to our fellow Americans as they work to rebuild their lives and their communities.

When the Senate reconvenes this week, it should immediately begin working with Democrats to send a disaster relief and recovery bill to the President’s desk. Further delays will only create more hardship, endanger communities, and further erode citizens’ belief that the government is there for them in times of need.

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    The expanded disaster bill introduced by House Democrats offers a reasonable and responsible path forward. Senate Republicans should work with Democrats and secure the robust disaster relief package that’s called for.