President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will deliver nearly $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico for the reconstruction of the power grid and the repair of schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria three years ago, amid criticism that assistance should have been delivered a long time ago and that it is only currently being released for political purposes.
Trump, who has previously been reluctant to provide assistance to the island, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden disputes voter support in the state of Florida, home to numerous Puerto Ricans, including many who fled Maria’s wreckage. The state is key in the presidential election.
— Kimberly Guilfoyle (@kimguilfoyle) September 18, 2020
Trump took responsibility for the delay to Democrats in Congress who approved the funding and pushed for its delivery.
“I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico, there’s not even anyone who comes close” the representative said at a press conference at the White House.
Puerto Rican Governor Wanda Vazquez thanked Trump and the government for handing over the funds, one of the largest sums ever provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster relief. “Working as a team works” Vazquez said in a series of tweets.
Democratic Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez said the chosen moment was worth noting, three years after the storm destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid and caused the longest blackout in American history.
Reconstruction of Puerto Rico
“The Trump administration delayed and resisted allocating such much-needed funds,” said Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico. “Now, forty-six days before the election, the government finally considers it appropriate to hand over those funds.”
In the past, Trump has persistently opposed providing additional help, saying that the island had already received too much and that he was concerned that the money would be wasted or wasted.
After the storm passed, the representative engaged in a public dispute with the mayor of San Juan over her criticism of her government’s response. Trump infuriating many by throwing rolls of paper towels at a crowd of people during a visit to an island church. This year, Democrats placed an image of the scene on a billboard in Kissimee, a large Puerto Rican city in central Florida.
Trump downplayed that story when he talked about the disbursement of aid and pledged to revitalize Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturing industry, which has been in decline due in part to a tax incentive revocation in 1996.
“I think you’re going to see a reconstruction of Puerto Rico“, he said.
Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017 with winds of 249.5 km/h (155 mph), causing damage of approximately $100 billion and leaving nearly 3,000 people dead, according to the official death toll Trump said was exaggerated to make it look bad.
Even now, thousands of houses remain damaged.
Electricity was not fully restored on the island until nearly 11 months after the storm. The system remains vulnerable and power outages affect thousands of people on a regular basis.
“The total destruction of the network from the storm gave rise to an opportunity to rebuild a cleaner, cheaper and more resilient electrical system, but the Trump administration faltered, delayed and refused to deliver disaster assistance in a timely manner to the people of Puerto Rico,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader.
The White House said $9.6 billion of the new funding is intended to help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority repair and replace thousands of kilometers of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems, office buildings, and to make other improvements to the grid.
He noted that $2 billion will go to the Puerto Rico Department of Education to repair schools across the island.
With this most recent funding, White House said the government has allocated about $26 billion for the island’s recovery following Maria’s passage. Congress has approved about $43 billion.
In October, the island’s government announced a 10-year plan to modernize and strengthen the electricity grid at a cost estimated at about $20 billion.