(TNS) - Congress was on track to pass disaster funds for Puerto Rico after the House on Thursday approved a $36.5 billion package that also includes additional money for other hurricane hit areas, flood insurance and wildfires in the West.
The vote, 353-69, was not without some difficulty after conservative groups balked at the spending and President Donald Trump lashed out at Puerto Rico, criticizing its pre-hurricane fiscal crisis in a series of morning tweets. The package now moves to the Senate. It is the first round of aid for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria and is still largely without electricity.
Last month, Congress approved an initial $15 billion package for Texas, Florida and other areas hit by an unusually destructive hurricane season.
In Thursday’s package, about half the money, $18.7 billion, will go to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, which is being rapidly depleted by recovery operations. Another $16 billion will shore up the National Flood Insurance Program that is also running out of money to cover losses. The package also provides $576.5 million for wildfires that have left dozens killed and hundreds of homes and structures burned in the West. Congress provided $4 billion more money for FEMA than the White House requested.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan sought to downplay Trump’s criticisms of Puerto Rico, though he shared some of the president’s complaints about the island territory’s fiscal crisis. “Yes, we need to make sure Puerto Rico can stand on its own two feet,” said Ryan, who will be visiting the island Friday. “But at the moment, there’s a humanitarian crisis.”
Others in Congress, however, criticized Trump’s slow response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, mocking his visit when he tossed paper towels to victims as insufficient. “We don’t need the president tossing paper towels to storm victims like he was tossing a ball to a dog,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has been calling for federal evacuation aid for the elderly, sick and other particularly vulnerable people. “We need airplanes, ships and helicopters to get people the hell out.”
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