White House requests $5B to ease Puerto Rico fiscal crisisOctober 11, 2017 3:14am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Tuesday asked Congress for $5 billion to ease a fiscal crisis striking the government of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico's central government and various municipalities and other local governments are suffering unsustainable cash shortfalls as Maria has choked off revenues and strained resources. The administration's request, so far delivered informally, would provide $4.9 billion for Puerto Rico and its local jurisdictions.

The White House also requested $150 million to help Puerto Rico with the 10 percent match required for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief.

A senior administration official confirmed the request, requiring anonymity because it is not yet official. The official stressed that jurisdictions other than Puerto Rico are eligible, but acknowledged the cash-strapped territory is sure to receive the bulk of the money.

On Saturday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello sent a letter to lawmakers asking for $500 million for the community disaster loan program, which is designed to help local governments deal with tax revenue shortfalls caused by disasters. He requested almost $4 billion in other aid.

"In addition to the immediate humanitarian crisis, Puerto Rico is on the brink of a massive liquidity crisis that will intensify in the immediate future," Rossello wrote.

Hours after the request, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled a $36.5 billion emergency spending bill that merged Tuesday's request with a proposal that the White House sent to Capitol Hill last week to replenish disaster funds and ease a cash crunch in the federal flood insurance program. A Thursday vote is expected.

"These funds are urgently needed to get resources to families and communities that are still suffering. This legislation will continue immediate relief efforts, and help jump-start the rebuilding process," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

Puerto Rico was already suffering from a lengthy recession and its government was beset with fiscal struggles to begin with. A financial control board is overseeing its debt problems and austerity plans.

The administration asked for $29 billion last week for FEMA disaster relief efforts and to pay federal flood insurance claims. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a vote is likely this week. The White House also requested $577 million to replenish federal firefighting accounts depleted by this year's bad spate of western wildfires.

The leadership-backed House aid bill ignores requests made last week by the Texas and Florida delegations last week for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance. Texas requested $19 billion in Harvey relief, while Florida asked for $27 billion for Hurricane Irma damage. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement Tuesday that said funding is also needed to help California recover from ongoing wildfires.

But GOP leaders want to avoid costly add-ons that could slow the package, though the Senate could add funding to the measure as it did when advancing a $15 billion aid package last month.

Congress last month approved a $15 billion first installment for disaster relief. Final estimates for the massive relief and rebuilding effort won't be ready for a while, but a huge year-end relief and reconstruction measure is expected.

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