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Puerto Rico

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria intensified into a major Category 4 hurricane before making landfall in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  The hurricane brought unprecedented rainfall and devastation to the area, damaged hundreds of thousands of homes, and forced tens of thousands of people into shelters.  I recently traveled with a bipartisan delegation to Puerto Rico to see the damage firsthand, to personally speak to local residents regarding how the storm has affected their communities, and to meet with Governor Rosselló to discuss the path toward recovery.  The devastation was overwhelming, but it confirmed that this is first and foremost a humanitarian disaster.  My colleagues and I in the House are fully committed to providing both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with the necessary resources to rebuild, which is why we acted quickly to pass two comprehensive pieces of legislation that will provide immediate relief to those who have been devastated by this disaster.   

As you may know, on September 25, 2017, Representative Kevin Brady introduced H.R. 3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airway Extension Act of 2017.  In addition to extending several expiring aviation programs through March 31, 2018, the bill modifies several tax provisions and rules for individuals and businesses in areas affected by Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma.  In particular, it modifies provisions regarding early withdrawals from retirement plans, employment-related tax credits, and income requirements for the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.  The bill also requires that private flood insurance offered outside of the National Flood Insurance Program satisfies the requirement for homeowners to maintain flood insurance coverage on properties that have federally-backed mortgages and are located in a flood zone.  On September 28, 2017, the House passed H.R. 3823, in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, by a vote of 264 to 155.  That same day, the Senate passed an amended version of this bill by voice vote, and the House agreed to the Senate amendment without objection.  The President signed H.R. 3823 into law on September 29, 2017.  

Originally referred to as the “Bankruptcy Judgeship Act of 2017,” when introduced by Representative John Conyers on May 1, 2017, H.R. 2266 would ultimately serve as the legislative vehicle for additional disaster relief funding.  In direct response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria, on October 12, in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, the House passed an amended version of H.R. 2266 by a vote of 353 to 69, now known as the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act.  H.R. 2266 would provide $36.5 billion in emergency funding for hurricane and wildfire relief and recovery.  Specifically, this includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, $16 billion in cancellation of National Flood Insurance Program debt, and $576.5 million for wildfire suppression efforts in the Western U.S.  Further, the bill would provide $1.3 billion in disaster nutrition assistance.  On October 24, 2017, the Senate passed H.R. 2266, also in bipartisan fashion, by a vote of 82 to 17.  On October 26, 2017, President Trump signed this bill into law.

More recently, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen introduced H.R. 4667, Further Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements on December 18, 2017.  This bill provides $81 billion of emergency appropriations to several federal agencies for disaster assistance related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  In addition to the devastation in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, this bill provides funding for the recovery efforts in Texas, Florida, and California.  H.R. 4667 includes $27.6 billion for FEMA, $26.1 billion for Community Development Block Grants, and $12.1 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers.  This emergency funding will continue the efforts to recover, rebuild, and reduce the impact of future natural disasters.  This bill also requires that the Governor of Puerto Rico submit to Congress a Recovery Plan that describes the areas 12 and 24 month economic and disaster recovery plan.  Lastly the bill provides disaster related tax relief to California wildfires and other communities, such as Florida and Texas, who were damaged by hurricanes earlier this year.  On December 22, 2017, the House passed H.R. 4667 by a vote of 251 to 169. I voted in favor of final passage.  The bill is currently pending in the Senate, where I hope my colleagues will take it up without delay.

Our fellow Americans need our help, and this legislation will provide the hurricane survivors with the resources they so desperately need.  Despite swift and effective congressional action, the painful reality is that the road to recovery for the residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will be long and difficult.  Congress will remain fully committed to working with the administration to make certain the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands receive the aid needed to fully recover and rebuild.