Arguing Over Puerto Rico Is Holding Up Disaster Aid

Images of unprecedented flooding across the Midwest are quite arresting, and you’d think they would goad Congress into swift action to get money to affected communities in Nebraska, Iowa and beyond.

But there’s a problem. A $13 billion disaster aid bill that would cover not just flooding but also hurricanes and tornadoes is stalled out in the Senate — all because of a petty partisan dispute over sending assistance to Puerto Rico.

This conflict has only been exacerbated by the president, who insists that Puerto Rico has received too much money already. Like other Republicans, the president is conveniently ignoring the fact that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and as such is entitled to the disaster aid needed to recover from Hurricane Maria. The storm devastated communities and caused an incredible ripple effect as people lived without power and services for months after the hurricane.

This should be straightforward, with everyone agreeing that funding for disaster recovery is needed sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, some people have chosen to turn it into a partisan struggle.

Of the $41 billion allocated to Puerto Rico’s recovery, communities have received barely $11 billion. While that may sound like a lot of money, it really isn’t when you consider the scope of the damage. Yet the president is claiming Puerto Rico received $91 billion and shouldn’t get any more.

Puerto Rico, meanwhile, is running out of funds to administer food assistance and perform vitally needed infrastructure repairs. The amount of money Puerto Rican officials want isn’t unreasonable, and many Democratic senators agree. Now Democrats are voting against an aid bill that in some cases applies to their own constituents — all because they do not want to see Puerto Rico shortchanged. Democrats are also pushing for more funds to help flooded Midwestern states.

The impasse in Congress is a challenging one to navigate. Democrats are being pressured to back down and stop holding up much-needed funds for states in crisis, just as they’re arguing that Republicans need to stop resisting the need to get more aid to Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the president propagates lies on Twitter and suggests he’ll block any bill that includes more money for the island.

It’s easy to make a case for passing the bill without Puerto Rico funding and deal with getting that aid later, but general Republican obstructionism and lack of cooperation make it a dubious proposition: There’s no guarantee a separate aid bill would get a fair shake, especially given Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s record on simply blocking any legislation — or nominees — he doesn’t like.

And even if such a bill passed, it would need to be reconciled with the House’s disaster aid bill, which includes funding to support Puerto Rico — so it would just kick the conflict down the line.

There’s another frustrating element to the conversation about disaster aid. The GAO just released a report taking a look at how funds were used for 2017 hurricane response, and the agency identified billions of dollars left on the table due to bureaucratic problems.

The agencies administering disaster grants, like HUD, redevelop them for every disaster, requiring communities to wait on guidelines and develop new applications which can add weeks or months to the process — even when people need urgent assistance with infrastructure repair, rebuilding, clearing dangerous sites and other issues.

The frequency of disasters has led some advocates to suggest the need for more streamlined grant programs, even as some cities are building out entire departments dedicated to handling this element of disaster response so they can move more quickly in emergencies.

Take Action

Join Care2 activists telling the Senate to stop monkeying around and pass this aid bill.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. Youll find Care2s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

46 comments

Richard B
Richard Babout a month ago

Thank you for sharing

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Lisa M
Lisa Mabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa Mabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a month ago

Thank you for carinh and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a month ago

So long so sad Thank you for carinh and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a month ago

Thank you for carinh and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a month ago

Prtition signed Thank you for carinh and sharing

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. Dabout a month ago

As usual President tRUMP is ignoring anything and everything that will not benefit his rich cronies. 2020 cannot get here fast enough. :(

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Lesa D
Past Member about a month ago

paper towels are NOT going to cut it...

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Lesa D
Past Member about a month ago

#19109 petition signed...

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