Rep. French Hill votes against aid for Puerto Rico despite voting for Harvey relief

A total of 69 Republicans in the House of Representatives, including Representative French Hill, voted against legislation to provide $36.5 billion in aid for areas impacted by the recent hurricanes and wildfires, including Puerto Rico. This vote comes after Rep. Hill voted for relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey in September.

According to The Hill, many of the opposition votes included members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who think spending by the government should avoid adding to the deficit.

The $36.5 billion will be spread out to help several communities through different programs, including allocating $16 billion to address the national flood insurance program debt and $18.7 billion to FEMA's disaster relief fund.

In a press release, Rep. Hill said that he "firmly" believed that the United States should aid "our neighbors in need," but didn't think this bill was "the right way or the compassionate way to do it."

"Continuing the trend of adding massive amounts onto our national debt and doing nothing to change programs that are in dire need of reforms hurts hardworking Americans both today and tomorrow who will have to pay for this unfunded package," Hill said.

Hill said that Congress is not "taking seriously" our national debt, but instead putting it on the "shoulders of future generations."

But when a vote came up for legislation to help recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey in September, Hill voted for the $15 billion package.

He said he was "proud" to support the Hurricane Harvey relief legislation because "America is strongest when neighbor supports neighbor."

Caroline Thorman, Hill's communications director, said his votes were influenced by his trip to Puerto Rico in March as well as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). Enacted in June 2016, the federal law created a board to oversee the island's debt restructuring. The Institute for New Economic Thinking, a nonprofit think tank, said the law's intent is to "enable Puerto Rico to lift itself out of financial crisis."

Thorman said that Hill was "one of the lead fighters" for sending aid to Puerto Rico. Eight days after Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, Hill spoke on the House floor saying that "tackling recovery is urgent." He suggested creating a joint task force to be created which would coordinate private and public relief efforts.

In letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Officer of Management and Budget Director Mike Mulvaney on October 13, Hill voiced his disappointment by the "failure of the administration to immediately declare a [joint task force] to coordinate the rescue and short term recovery support in Puerto Rico."

"The United States is more than $20 trillion in debt," Hill said in the letters, "and all federal spending must be under careful scrutiny, especially those programs that have amassed billions of dollars in debt."

According to Thorman, Hill has been working on flood reform legislation for "over 9 months" to make sure people have their "needs met when hurricanes and other natural disasters hit."

As of October 10, 57 percent of people in Puerto Rico have drinking water and only 15 percent with access to electricity according to the Pentagon. 

(This article has been edited to add comments from Rep. Hill's team and information on the letters sent to Ryan and Mulvaney.)

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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