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Puerto Rico requests $94 billion from Congress for hurricane recovery

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello unveiled a $94.3 billion disaster relief request to Congress on Monday, a massive sum that he said will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.

Rossello also promised that the island's recovery effort will be the "most transparent" in U.S. history as the governor faces criticism over awarding a now-canceled $300 million contract to a small Montana-based power company to rebuild the nation's electric grid. Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power 54 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The largest chunk of Rossello's request, $31 billion, would go to housing assistance, with another $17.7 billion to rebuild the island's power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.

"This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, where we're not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean," Rossello said.

The $94 billion request will likely be pared down by Congress and the Trump administration, as fiscally conservative Republicans will likely oppose such a massive long-term aid package, as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The package is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief requested by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.

"I'm making a commitment that this will be the most transparent recovery effort in the history of the United States," Rossello said. "What we're asking for is equal treatment. A natural disaster does not look at politics, at race or location, it just devastates."

Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's non-voting member of Congress, was also present at Monday's press conference. She expects Congress to devise two more hurricane relief packages before the end of the year, one by Thanksgiving and the other by Christmas.

"As it happened with (Hurricane) Katrina, they received several supplementals (disaster funding packages) over a 10-year period," Gonzalez said. "We hope not to go to a 10-year period; we want to rebuild the island quickly and faster."

The biggest federal entity that Puerto Rico is requesting funding from, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant Program, was once on the Trump administration's chopping block. Puerto Rico is requesting $46 billion from the agency.

Gonzalez also said that additional disaster funds could come from amendments to legislation before the end of the year.

Rossello, a Democrat, and Gonzalez, a Republican, both support Puerto Rican statehood, though they said disaster recovery remains their main priority during upcoming discussions with the White House and congressional leadership.

"You need to treat 3.4 million American citizens equally," Gonzalez said. "I will be pushing for statehood; we both ran on that platform. For me, statehood is equality and I will be pushing for that equality."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott set up three disaster relief centers in Miami and Orlando to help families displaced by Hurricane Maria. At least 140,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida in the past two months.

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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