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Trump signs disaster relief bill delayed for months by his opposition to Puerto Rico aid

“Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!” President Trump tweeted. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump signed a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill Thursday and took credit for aid to Puerto Rico — assistance he had opposed for months, causing long delays in getting help to states.

The package will provide billions of dollars to areas struggling to recover from wildfires, hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters. The House passed the measure Monday and sent it to Trump for his signature.

Trump tweeted a picture of himself holding the legislation and wrote, “Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers. Help for GA, FL, IA, NE, NC, and CA.”

He added: “Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!”

In fact, the areas of the country ravaged by natural disasters have had to wait months for the assistance because Trump pushed back against including more money for Puerto Rico.

House passes $19 billion disaster aid bill; Trump is expected to sign

Throughout negotiations, the president accused the Puerto Rican government of mismanaging the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and claimed that the island received more money from the government than it had.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said that he tried to meet privately with the president to discuss disaster aid, but that Trump refused. Since January, Rosselló lobbied hard against the White House’s stonewalling, at one point telling CNN, “If the bully gets close, I’ll punch the bully in the mouth.”

After Hurricane Maria, which Puerto Rico says killed 3,000 people, the Trump administration was criticized for not responding as quickly as it did to Hurricane Harvey in Texas several weeks earlier.

In the disaster relief package, Puerto Rico will receive $1 billion in aid, including $600 million for its food stamp program and $300 million for community block grants.

The legislation, typically bipartisan, was also delayed by internal squabbles among Republicans, a fight over immigration and, after the Senate passed the bill last month, objections from a handful of House conservatives who prevented the measure from passing while lawmakers were out of town for Memorial Day.

As the months passed, additional natural disasters hit the United States and the bill had to be rewritten to address some of them, particularly flooding in the Midwest.

In its final form, the legislation will fund numerous federal programs that provide aid and rebuilding assistance to local communities, farmers, service members and others nationwide.

Among many other provisions, the disaster legislation contains $2.4 billion for community development block grants to address disasters that have occurred since 2017, $3 billion for the Agriculture Department to cover producers’ losses from those disasters and $720 million for the Forest Service to repay money spent fighting last year’s wildfires.

The bill is among the broadest pieces of disaster legislation to have been considered by Congress, in the scope of aid and the multitude of disasters addressed. These included Hurricanes Maria, Florence and Michael; Typhoon Mangkhut, Super Typhoon Yutu and Tropical Storm Gita; plus wildfires in California, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and an earthquake in Alaska.

The magnitude of the legislation underscores the recent frequency of extreme weather events in the United States.

The measure also will extend the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30, and includes a provision pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to ensure that federal crop insurance will cover industrial hemp.

Erica Werner contributed to this report.