Puerto Rico awaits aid from Congress after ongoing earthquakes

by May 15, 2020Congress, Puerto Rico0 comments

With the United States Senate back in session, the opportunity to provide much-needed aid to Puerto Rico has returned. HR 5687, the Puerto Rico Earthquake Supplemental, was passed in February by the House and currently awaits judgment in the Senate.

Still recovering from the hurricane that devastated the islands in 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by a series of earthquakes starting last December, peaking with a 6.4 magnitude quake on January 7 that caused widespread outages and 1 death. The aftershocks have continued in the following months, highlighting further the need for some sort of relief.

The Puerto Rico Earthquake Supplemental is a $4.89 billion aid package brought forward by Representative Nita Lowey (D) of New York, who aims to alleviate the effects of the disasters and put Puerto Rico on a long term path to recovery. The bill would direct $300 million towards education and nutrition, $1.25 billion towards road repairs, and over $3.3 billion towards infrastructure restoration and economic revitalization. 

However, despite passing in the House 237-161 in February, HR 5687 is not guaranteed to pass into law. On February 5, the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement that President Trump would veto the bill, citing the $90 billion the administration is already projected to spend and further adding that “neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse.” This was one of their concerns because, as the administration stated, “Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island.”Due to increasing congressional partisanship, a Republican Senate majority, and the clear opposition of the White House, the Puerto Rico Earthquake Supplemental is unlikely to pass the Senate and even less likely to be signed by the president. Mitch McConnell might decide not to continue ignoring this bill as he did in the last Senate session, but until that happens, Puerto Rico will have to make do with the $8.3 billion agreed to be released by the Trump administration subject to its conditions.