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

@thehill \ Twitter

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

Could This Young Woman Of Color Be The Next AOC? This Progressive Political Group Hopes So

Things That Matter

Could This Young Woman Of Color Be The Next AOC? This Progressive Political Group Hopes So

MeetMcKayla / Instagram

Inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mckayla Wilkes of Maryland has got her sights set on 2020, challenging House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for his seat. In fact, Wilkes has been influenced so much by AOC’s run for Congress in 2018, she’s now secured backing from Brand New Congress – the same progressive group that supported Ocasion-Cortez’s campaign way back when.

That’s swell and all, but why do we care?

Instagram / @meetmckayla

There’s plenty of reasons to care about Wilkes and who she is: she’s a black, working-class, 29 year-old mother-of-two studying political science in Waldorf, Maryland. When you compare her to Steny Hoyer and his background – essentially an old, white man serving his 20th term in office – you can definitely imagine that Wilkes would be more familiar with the everyday struggles that most of us face, than Hoyer. “He’s not for people that are my family, my friends, my coworkers,” Wilkes said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “It shows in the policies that he sponsors and that he endorses, and it shows in the donors that he gets his contributions from.”

Wilkes has been extremely candid and open about her past and her struggles.

Twitter / @MeetMckayla

It’s easy to see that Wilkes is as genuine as it gets, as she’s also been upfront about her past. “I just don’t want any secrets … I want everything to be out there. It’s not like I’m the only person who goes through these things,” she said, having publicly spoke about her time in jail as a teen and young adult. Wilkes has admitted to going through a rough patch, and also spoke about the abortion she had when she was 19: “It’s not like it’s something easy to do,” she told BuzzFeed recently. “It’s not an easy decision to make. But I feel like women should have that right. … My body is not a political playground. There’s no room for [politicians] in the room with me and my doctor.”

Sure, she’s more representative of the population, but what does Wilkes stand for?

Instagram / @meetmckayla

In short, it seems as if Mckayla Wilkes is running on a platform that’s kinda similar to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Things like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, affordable housing, overhauling the criminal justice system and even initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump are all on her to-do list, should she be elected. And yeah: none of these policies are gonna be easy to institute, especially as the Democrat’s current position doesn’t support impeachment. But, whoever said that running for office – and getting things done – would be easy?

She is committed to raising money for her campaign directly from her constituents.

Instagram / @meetmckayla

However, Wilkes is clearly driven by her morals, and isn’t afraid of a challenge. She’s also committed to staying away from PAC money and is seeking funding through other means. It’s meant that, since launching her campaign in June, she’s raised $70,000 from door knocking. To put it in perspective, Hoyer raised just $185 in the first quarter of 2019 from grassroots donations … and over $650,000 from other sources. What this means for Wilkes is that, having fundraised exclusively through donations from the community, her decisions and policies are tied directly to her constituents – and not other interests. More power to her, right?

It sounds like Wilkes is definitely for the people – but what is she up against?

Instagram / @leaderhoyer

Well, there is the obvious: Wilkes is running against an incumbent, and one who’s got plenty of funding and connections to boot. It’s not easy to run against someone who’s in that position. Especially when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made an announcement earlier this year that if an organization supports candidates challenging an incumbent House Democrat, the party would cut them off from business. It means that even simple things like securing advertisers becomes that much harder for someone in Wilkes’ position.

Wilke’s campaign will be a challenging one to win but she’s got her eyes on the prize.

Instagram / @meetmckayla

Chances are that Wilkes’ campaign will face more challenges than what Ocasio-Cortez saw, too. The population of Maryland’s 5th District is 60 percent white. However, New York’s 14th District, where AOC ran for her seat, is 18 percent white. Political pundits speculate that because 2020 is a presidential election year, it’s highly likely that younger and more diverse voters will show up to have their say – which in turn should help Wilkes.

Mckayla Wilkes is no fool, and she knows that she needs to lean into the fact that she not only represents a more diverse face in the race for Congress, but also a deeper, more tangible connection to the average Joe. “That’s … what sets me apart from Hoyer and also the majority of people in Congress,” Wilkes said to the media, “because I would not be able to sleep at night knowing that I’m denying my sister health care or that I’m denying my friend a place to live or that I’m denying my classmate a place to live. So, for me, it’s personal.”

Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

Entertainment

Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

Flamboyan Foundation / Facebook

Maintaining funding for the arts is a challenging enough task during the best of times. For Puerto Ricans, those “best of times” have long been gone. A backlog of corruption scandals coupled with the most devastating natural disaster in the island’s history has exacerbated the arts organizations resources. Two years after Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Puerto Rico, hope for maintaining the culture and arts of Boricuas has arrived.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Seller, the play’s producer, have partnered with the Flamboyan Foundation to establish an art fund for struggling arts organizations in Puerto Rico.

The Flamboyan Foundation was established just earlier this year, funded by ticket sales from “Hamilton.”

@theatermania / Twitter

Even better, the $14.7 million that was raised for the fund were all raised by Puerto Ricans. The “Hamilton” cast and crew up and went to Puerto Rico for a 17-day run. The Flamboyan Foundation, named after the flamboyán tree native to Puerto Rico, established the arts fund in 2018. “The Flamboyan Arts Fund is an extension of our deep commitment to ensuring that Puerto Rico is thriving economically and socially,” Flamboyan Puerto Rico Executive Director Carlos J. Rodríguez-Silvestre said in a statement. “We cannot be more excited to partners with our 12 inaugural grant recipients as well as the new grantees that we will welcome following this round of applications.  This is just the beginning!”

So far, at least 12 grant recipients have been named.

@ElNuevoDia / Twitter

“It’s the first time that we have funds guaranteed for the beginning of the year so it’s been very important, Lolita Villanúa, executive director of Andanza told NBC News. Andanza is a dance company and school that has been giving back to Puerto Rico since 1998, but not without struggles. “The search for funds has always been very difficult,” she said. One year, the government gave Andanza just $8,000 for a full year of operations.

Villanúa felt the grant “was like a big prize on our 20th anniversary because we [have been] working tirelessly and intensely for the country.”

The trickle-down effect goes to benefit young scholarship students.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

One Andanza dance student, Paola Morales López is just 15 years old and wants to make a career out of dancing. “I feel super grateful because I see that they support me and that they believe in me,” Morales López told NBC News. “Andanza is like my second family.” Another 18-year-old ballet student, Gabriela Arroyo, said that, “Dance has helped me. It’s a form to escape reality, and it’s also a way to stay healthy.”

Of course, the “Hamilton” funds will also go to help local theaters stay open.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

Another grant went to a collective of seven artists who started the San Juan theater company, Y No Había Luz (“And There Was No Light”) when they were just students at the University of Puerto Rico. For the last 15 years, the group has continued to stay open, using their literal theater platform to advocate for social change and to humanize Boricuas.

Without the grant, Puerto Ricans may have never witnessed a play centered around an ancient tree that fell during Hurricane Maria.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

Y No Había Luz created the play “Centinela de Mangó,” which retells the experience of the town of Orocovis, which survived Hurricane Maria only to find the tree that symbolized the island’s identity had fallen. The company has been able to bring the play to New York City, as well, where many Hurricane Maria victims were directed by FEMA. The company wants to turn the story into a children’s book, forever immortalizing the tree’s meaning into words that will be passed down for generations.

With rent paid, the art grant recipients can dream even bigger.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

“For three years I can plan and create a healthier structure for my team. I can make dreams more long-term,” Yari Helfeld of Y No Había Luz told NBC News. She added, “My dad always told us that we should do what we wanted and not let anyone tell you what to do.” Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the “Hamilton” family, dreams are being made a reality for art directors and young children alike. The arts will have a safe home in Puerto Rico for the foreseeable future.

READ: Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall