GOP Lawmaker Puts $19B Disaster-Aid Bill on Ice

A semi truck and trailer are swept off the road by floodwaters on March 13, 2019, in Arlington, Neb. Evacuations forced by flooding have occurred in several eastern Nebraska communities, as western Nebraska residents struggled with blizzard-like conditions. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A long-delayed bill that earmarks $19 billion for Puerto Rico and states across the country devastated by record-breaking storms and wildfires faced a new detour Friday from a Texas lawmaker.

Representative Chip Roy, who is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, cast the one vote needed to block the legislation touted just a day earlier as a bipartisan success. Before its passage Thursday at the Senate, the bill had gathered dust for months as heated tensions over border-wall funding monopolized lawmakers’ attention. 

Roy swiftly returned the conversation to border-wall funding today, even though President Donald Trump said he would sign the bill enthusiastically.

“It is a bill that that includes nothing to address the international emergency and humanitarian crisis we face at our southern border,” said Roy, who used to be an aide to Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Decrying the bill a failure for its lack of money for Trump’s $4.5 billion request to handle the migrant-refugee crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, Roy repeatedly targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement released Friday and said he objects to the “swampy practice” of calling for a vote on the bill when the House was in recess.

Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón, who is Puerto Rico’s sole representative on Capitol Hill, said she anticipates that discussion over the border wall could again slow the bill.

Leaders hoped to pass the measure by unanimous consent after some House members left town Thursday morning. The next full session of the House will not take place until members return to Washington the first week of June.

While she does not anticipate a unanimous vote when the full House convenes next month, González-Colón said she is hopeful as many as 300 members will vote to approve the disaster aid. 

A spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the agency is operating with $28 billion and that current operations in Puerto Rico, California, Florida and other disaster-hit locations will not be affected by Roy blocking the bill. She added that the disaster-aid bill would provide additional money to several agencies, including FEMA.

The bill earmarks $605 million for food assistance in Puerto Rico and an additional $304 million for FEMA housing and other related assistance.

González-Colón noted, however, that upwards of $10 billion for aid relief to Puerto Rico from last year has yet to be disbursed because the Department of Housing and Urban Development has failed to provide necessary guidance.

“The reconstruction of the island is going to need a lot of resources not just in terms of money but in terms of expediting all that has been approved and changing federal laws,” she said in an interview. “We are working on bills to change what are essential services in terms of FEMA. … We are going to continue to file those and push for those and seek the help from the agencies.”

Roy made no mention in his statement released Friday of Puerto Rico or the numerous states hit by record-breaking natural disasters that would receive much needed aid through the package.

When asked whether he would vote for the legislation next Tuesday in a “pro forma” session — one with few lawmakers present — Roy said, “We’ll see.”

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