House proposes helping Puerto Rico with more loans it can’t afford

UPDATE, 10/12: The House approved the bill on Thursday. Just for shits, 69 Republicans voted no.

The lower chamber of Congress stopped twiddling its dicks and unveiled Puerto Rico relief legislation Tuesday night, 20 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The House bill doesn’t include grants for community development or social services like the governor specifically requested, but it does include a big ol’ $4.9 billion loan for the colony that is already $74 billion in debt.

That’s on top of $13.58 billion allocated for FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which the island will have to share with Florida and Texas, storm-stricken regions of the country that just so happen to have access to clean drinking water, unlike 38 percent of Puerto Rico. (Some desperate locals have resorted to obtaining water from toxic superfund sites.) The bill also includes $16 billion in debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program, whose coffers are depleted in the wake of extensive flooding at the hands of three hurricanes. Forgiving that federal debt seems like a pretty chill solution, so it’s a bummer the government refuses to offer Puerto Rico the same type of assistance.

As The Intercept’s David Dayen explains, this is just like that one meme:

This is like the famous meme of the guy checking out a girl with his girlfriend standing right next to him, only the guy is the GOP, the girl he’s checking out is the NFIP, and the girlfriend is Puerto Rico. In a bill intended to give relief to Puerto Rico, the island gets a thin amount of guaranteed aid and a vague level of other funding, along with $5 billion in loans. Meanwhile, in the words of President Donald Trump, the NFIP gets its debt “wiped out.”

In other words:


The NFIP’s debt is held by the Treasury Department, while Puerto Rico’s debt is mostly held by private investors, but Dayen points out there are several ways a creative Congress could still help with that outstanding $74 billion, if it truly sympathized with the needs of a suffering territory whose officials worry they may be completely broke at the end of the month.

Still, Congress has the ability to change the terms of Puerto Rico’s current bankruptcy-style process, or even to buy up that debt eminent domain-style for what it deems just compensation, only to cancel it later. And Congress could certainly give Puerto Rico grants rather than another $5 billion in loans to deal with.

Maria’s official death count in Puerto Rico is now 45. The House is expected to vote on the relief bill this week. The Senate is currently on vacation.

[h/t: The Intercept | photo: Getty]