The House on Thursday passed legislation that builds on President Obama’s first aid package for Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, which was tied to the wildly unpopular ObamaCare requirement that insurance plans cover contraception.
With Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX)’s Help Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5150) on his desk, the bill would fund recovery efforts for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands through 2020, provide a five-year, $1.5 billion grant program for housing, and help promote clean and renewable energy, according to the White House.
Biden’s Help Build Back Better Act would raise the maximum level of funding from $5 billion to $7 billion, according to The Hill.
The legislation would also include a method of securing a foreign debt restructuring settlement, including the creditor disputes that have threatened Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts, according to CNN.
The bill would also require the presidents appoint director to oversee the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a government-run private investment agency that has invested in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
“For my constituents, for my wife and children, for my staff and myself, this legislation is about helping them rebuild what they lost and build better,” Biden said at the bill’s introduction.
The key amendment from Congressman McCaul would create a grant program called the Green Bank, which is modeled after the government’s infrastructure bank in California.
As local officials continue to grapple with the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria, the bill still needs to pass the Senate.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested he had concerns with the bill.
“I haven’t seen any information supporting the claims of ‘the USVI needs $1.5 billion from Congress,’” Rubio said on the Senate floor in July. “What the USVI really needs is to borrow their way out of debt, just like most local governments in Puerto Rico did to pay for Hurricane Maria.”
According to CNN, though, neither Rubio nor McCain voted against the bill.
While it only passed by one vote, House Republicans are still divided on the bill with GOP leaders trying to find a way forward.
For his part, Mr. Trump seemed to be willing to take a second look at the bill.
When asked by CNBC about his support for helping rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, Mr. Trump said, “Look, I have a lot of respect for Joe [Biden].”
He added, “It’s a start and I’m going to give him a lot of credit for that.”
About 57 percent of Puerto Rico still doesn’t have power, seven months after the storm, according to CNN.
The bill is expected to head to the Senate, with a Democratic companion bill set to be released Friday.