Partisan bickering — fueled in no small measure by President Donald Trump’s tweets and the Democratic congressional leadership’s attempt to use recent flood victims as negotiating pawns — has stalled congressional action on badly needed disaster assistance for the flood-ravaged Midwest.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican disaster bill, pointing to the need for additional funding to help hurricane-torn Puerto Rico, whose residents are U.S. citizens.
Trump claimed the additional funding sought by Democrats would come at the expense of U.S. farmers and states and attacked the island’s political leaders, alleging they “only take from USA,” implying Puerto Rico is not part of the United States.
In a pair of tweets Tuesday, Trump said $91 billion destined for Puerto Rico is “more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money.”
But the actual amount allocated to the island is far less than the $91 billion President Trump claims.
A White House official told NBC News last week that the federal government has allocated $40 billion for disaster recovery in Puerto Rico — not $91 billion. And much of the $40 billion has yet to reach the island, mostly due to the time-consuming process put in place that requires island officials to submit a series of plans that outline how they expect to use the money and await federal approval.
The Associated Press reported a White House spokesman said Trump’s $91 billion estimate includes about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements, which may come over a 20-year time frame.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello claims the Federal Emergency Management Agency has to date approved only $300 million in permanent work projects.
The $13.5 billion Senate disaster relief bill mirrors for the most part a $14.2 billion measure the House passed in January before the Midwest flooded. In addition to helping Midwest flood victims, the Senate bill would combine, but at a lesser amount, aid to Southern farmers, California communities devastated by a 2018 wildfire and hurricane-damaged states such as Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Hurricane-damaged military bases in Florida and North Carolina would receive rebuilding funds.
But now Democrats want to add nearly $700,000 to the GOP proposal to unlock further disaster aid for Puerto Rico and several states, including help to rebuild badly damaged water systems. Democrats are also trying to use the new funding as a means to force the administration to release billions of dollars in rebuilding funds that have already been approved.
But the GOP isn’t buying the Democrats argument.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the Senate measure is the fastest way to get aid to the South and the Midwest, along with nutrition aid to Puerto Rico, where food stamp benefits have already been cut.
The AP quoted McConnell as noting the Senate bill “is the only bill on the table with any provisions for the Midwest flooding. And it’s the only bill on the table that could earn a presidential signature in time to deliver urgent relief on the nutritional assistance in Puerto Rico.”
For the sake of our neighbors, the Democrats need to stop using Midwest flood victims as pawns in an effort to help Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico debate needs to be fought on its own merit. It should not delay disaster relief for the Midwest.