Washington Watch – Spotlight on Puerto Rico: Trump Renominates Current FOMB Members

By Jennice Fuentes / Fuentes Strategies

President Donald Trump announced that he will nominate all current Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) members for Senate confirmation. The move comes in anticipation of a May 16 deadline imposed by the US Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the FOMB’s composition is unconstitutional because its members were appointed bypassing the Senate confirmation process. The court gave Trump and the Senate until May 16 to appoint new or current members to serve out the remainder of their 3-year terms, which expire in August. The US Supreme Court is still weighing whether to take up the appeal.

Meanwhile, in making his announcement, Trump repeated his previous accusations that Puerto Rican politicians have a history of corruption and mismanagement.

Federal Agencies Weigh-in on Disaster Bill Standoff

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials appear to have intervened in the ongoing debate over a disaster spending bill that has been stalled on Capitol Hill. The issue is over President Trump’s ongoing objections to additional hurricane disaster-spending for Puerto Rico. Interim FEMA Director Mike Byrne was quoted saying he’s opposed to extending a 100% waiver for FEMA matching funds for the Island because it needs to have “skin in the game.” Byrne failed to mention that the Commonwealth is in the middle of a bankruptcy process and legally cannot pay matching funds, stalling FEMA projects. Adding further fuel to the fire, Republican Senate staff shared that HUD officials warned that even if an amendment were approved to increase CDBG-DR funds to use to pay for those costs, HUD would not disburse the money to Puerto Rico. Experts argue that part of the problem is that HUD held up almost all of the CDBG-DR funds Congress approved to rebuild Puerto Rico and other disaster-stricken jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee Chair, Nita Lowey, unveiled a $17 billion bill that includes $600 million to replenish Puerto Rico’s already expired emergency Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) funds—which affects over 1 million beneficiaries in Puerto Rico—as well as additional FEMA funding and language to force HUD to send the remainder of the CDBG-DR already approved by Congress in 90 days. This bill is expected to be on the House floor next week.

Senate Republicans have resisted Democratic efforts to include Puerto Rico’s full disaster funding needs in the must-pass bill to fund emergency recovery efforts in the Midwest and the South, however they sent Democrats a new offer on Tuesday evening that gives some ground on assistance to Puerto Rico. Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the new offer would probably not give the Puerto Rico more direct aid “in totality,” the chairman told reporters, “but we hope it would facilitate their access to money that’s available.”

Congressional Hearing to Focus on Austerity, PROMESA

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing this Thursday on the status of the PROMESA federal law and the austerity policies the FOMB and the Commonwealth have implemented. Governor Ricardo Rosselló and FOMB Executive Director Natalie Jaresko will testify at the 10am hearing. Additional witnesses include economist and Espacios Abiertos fellow Martín Guzmán, as well as the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Institute for Youth Development, Amanda Rivera, and University of Puerto Rico Associate Professor Dr. Ana Cristina Gómez Pérez. The hearing will be live streamed via this link.

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