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WASHINGTON WATCH: October 24, 2023


THE LONG GAME: Biden proposes $105B aid package; Speaker stalemate continues

On Friday, President Biden delivered to Congress a request for $105 billion in funding for military aid, mostly for Ukraine and Israel. Biden said that the package would ensure “American security for generations.” The aid includes $61 billion in military and economic assistance to Ukraine, $14 billion to buttress Israel’s air defenses, $9 billion in humanitarian aid, and $7 billion to support Taiwan and other regional allies. In a nod to Republicans, the White House also included $14 billion to shore up the U.S. border, plus funding for more border patrol agents and immigration judges. The Senate Democratic leadership pledged quick action on the package, although the Appropriations Committee might not act until the end of the month. Biden set the stage for the funding request with a rare Oval Office address Thursday night. In the speech, he sought to tie the aid to domestic economic concerns, referencing the fact that the military items are produced in states such as Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  

As of this writing, Republicans picked Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) as their nominee for House speaker, as they try for a third time to fill the top leadership position. Emmer, the GOP whip and most senior candidate, was the top vote-getter among the hodgepodge list of mostly lesser-known members of Congress. Legislation has ground to a halt for about three weeks in the absence of a speaker and this is all happening with only weeks to go until a mid-November deadline when the continuing resolution (CR) expires, perhaps forcing a government shutdown. Of the nine members that were running for speaker, only two-- Emmer and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) -- voted to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment. 


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

FEMA announces $54 million to Puerto Rico Ports Authority 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced an award of $54 million to the Puerto Rican Ports Authority for improvements of the Island’s air and sea transportation infrastructure, including $4.6 million for hazard mitigation. About $27.8 million will be used for the construction of multiple structures at Puerto Nuevo Seaport and $1.4 million will go to Yabucoa Harbor. Aguadilla’s Rafael Hernandez International Airport will receive $5.5 million and Ceiba’s José Aponte de la Torre Airport will receive $16.5 million. 

U.S. Attorney awards $28.8 million to Puerto Rico Department of Justice, others 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced $28.8 million in federal grants to the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, the P.R. Forensic Science Institute, and several community organizations working to address gender-based violence. The funds come from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Justice Programs (OJB) and are intended to help communities curb violence, serve victims, support youth programs, and improve outcomes through evidence-based criminal and juvenile programs. Some of the highlights include $12.6 million for VOCA Victim Assistance grants, $700,000 to establish a local law enforcement Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC) at the Puerto Rico Forensic Science Institute, and more than $900,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico to support children who have been exposed to violence. 

Department of Energy awards nearly $1 million in new energy resilience grants

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a cooperative agreement for $992,000 in funding to improve energy resiliency in several Puerto Rican communities. The funding is provided through the DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity via the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). The funding will be allocated via a two-year cooperative agreement that will fund solar-plus-storage systems at community-serving facilities that have historically lacked access to reliable electricity and will serve as resilience hubs in times of crisis. IREC will work with faculty and students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez campus, to design, develop, and guide operations of each resilience hub.

$45.6 million in stimulus payments to be recovered

Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés-Alicea announced last week that approximately 34,000 taxpayers will receive notifications informing them of their ineligibility for the economic impact payments they received. These individuals received COVID-19 pandemic aid for which they were ineligible and have not yet returned those funds. The Secretary cautioned that this group represents a tiny fraction of the 1.8 million Puerto Ricans who received pandemic assistance. Some of the aid being recovered includes accidental duplicate payments, invalid payments due to discrepancies between provided names and Social Security information, and payments made to people who were not actually legal Puerto Rican residents in 2019 and 2020. 


View From The White House

  • The Supreme Court on Friday lifted restrictions imposed by lower courts that would have blocked the ability of the White House, FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies from communicating with social media companies about misinformation appearing on their platforms.  

  • The Commerce Department on Monday announced 31 new regional tech hubs on the mainland and Puerto Rico that would be eligible for $500 million in federal funding to promote innovation in sectors such as semiconductors, clean energy, critical minerals, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.

  • The Department of the Interior last week announced steps to develop future guidelines and strategies to protect the Colorado River system and strengthen water security in western states.



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