Things That Matter

After Delay Caused By Border Wall And Trump’s Feud with Puerto Rico, Congress Finally Passes $19.1 Billion Disaster Aid Package

Nearly two years after Puerto Rico was hit by two massive hurricanes,
a $19 billion disaster relief bill has been approved by Congress. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Monday night, sending the measure to President Trump, where he is expected to sign it.

The delay in the disaster funding bill was caused by a political argument between President Trump and Puerto Rico that has lasted for over a year.

Credit: @NPR / Twitter

The relief package will be sent to states like affected by flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters in recent months. The bill passed by a wide bipartisan gap, 354 to 58, and ends a months-long saga in Congress.

The disaster bill, which is typically a bipartisan issue, faced multiple delays. The legislation was halted for months as President Trump and Democrats fought over aid to Puerto Rico, which will now receive more than $1.4 billion in assistance. President Trump and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz publicly argued over hurricane recovery efforts.

The stalling came at a cost as Puerto Rico cut food assistance to a program serving almost half its residents. Many people have yet to return to their normal lives almost two years later.

There were issues of where all the money would be going including funding for a border wall.

Credit: @deidrekwalsh / Twitter

There were also internal fighting among some Republicans who wanted money allocated over border funding. This led to some objections by a handful of conservatives in the House who stopped the bill from passing over Memorial Day weekend. The 58 who voted “no” on the bill all came from Republicans.

“Today we are rejecting the political stunts and grandstanding that have made it difficult to deliver much-needed disaster relief to families and communities across America,” Nita Lowey, House Appropriations Chairwoman told USA Today during the floor debate. “Americans across the country have been waiting far too long for the relief and recovery assistance they deserve.”

Ultimately, the bill will fund numerous federal programs that provide aid and rebuilding assistance to local communities, farmers, service members and others nationwide.

Besides Puerto Rico, the relief bill will help in areas like Florida, Georgia, Alabama which were hit by hurricanes in the last year. Also for massive wildfires in California, and floods in the Midwest.

The bill contains $2.4 billion for community development block grants to help with disasters that have occurred since 2017 and $3 billion for the Agriculture Department to cover farmers losses from those disasters. An additional $720 million will be given to the Forest Service to repay money spent fighting California’s deadly wildfires last year.

Many in Congress celebrated to the bill being passed after numerous delays.

Credit: @SenKamalaHarris / Twitter

Leaders on both sides of the political aisle celebrated the bill passing as many communities have sought assistance for months. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill was long overdue and blamed Republicans for the holdup.

“For more than four months, Republicans in the Senate, White House and now the House have forced millions of American families to pay the price for their cruel actions,” Pelosi said in a public statement.

On the Republican side, minority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, said while the bill will help many it doesn’t solve the many problems at the U.S. border.

“The appropriated resources will begin to provide necessary aid and relief to the millions of Americans around the country struggling from the devastation caused by natural disasters,” McCarthy said. “However, it’s unfortunate that Democrats dragged their feet for so long and yet still refuse to address the humanitarian and national security crisis taking place along our southern border.”

Nonetheless, the relief package is poised to help thousands of Americans affected by the recent natural distastes. The amount of money and magnitude of the legislation highlights the recent frequency of extreme weather conditions that have occurred in the last few years in the U.S.

READ: A Legal Marijuana Industry Might Be What Puerto Rico Needs To Recover Financially

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo telescope collapsed in December after years of neglect and damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. But the island is looking to the future with the hope that the U.S. territory could become a major hub for space exploration as a potential space port.

Puerto Rico seeks to be a hub for international space travel.

Puerto Rico may best be known for its tourist packed beaches and its bankrupt finances, but as the island continues to recover from the economic disasters in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s looking to the future.

And to many officials on the island, the future is in space exploration. The Caribbean island has put out a request for information, or RFI, seeking companies interested in turning a sleepy airport at the base of the El Yunque National Rainforest into a space port.

The island’s location between North and South America and close to the Equator gives it “viable trajectories to a large range of desirable low earth orbit launch inclinations,” Puerto Rico’s Port Authority said in a notice posted Friday.

The potential base could be a major boost to the Puerto Rican economy.

The site is currently a small airport that already houses an 11,000 feet runway and offers flights to various points in the territory. But with the existing infrastructure, officials state it could easily be converted into a space port.

If the site does generate interest, it would be a major boost to Puerto Rico’s small but vibrant aerospace sector. Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace all have manufacturing plants on the island.

Puerto Rico would also join a growing number of U.S. states and jurisdictions that are vying for pieces of the commercial launch business, which is expected to become a trillion-dollar market over the next decade.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Joel A. Pizá Batiz, believes that “The aerospace industry is one of the economic sectors that is experiencing the most rapid growth. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic it was one of the few sectors that did not receive much impact,” he explained.

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