Biden Pledges $60 Million in Aid to Puerto Rico After Hurricane

President Joe Biden on Monday pledged $60 million in aid for Puerto Rico while visiting after Hurricane Fiona devastated the island as a Category 1 storm around two weeks ago, leaving most without power.

The president and first lady met with Puerto Rican residents impacted by Fiona on Monday, two weeks after the storm ravaged the island on Sept. 18, dumping 30 inches of rain, and tearing up roads, water pipes, and power lines.

Once on the ground in Ponce, a city on the southern side of the island, Biden said he came in person with First Lady Jill Biden to show Puerto Ricans that “all of America’s with you as you receive and recover and rebuild.”

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 1 on Sept. 18, leaving most people without power and around 13 dead, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health (pdf).

Biden, who was joined by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, said the $60 million he announced Monday is earmarked to help rebuild coastal regions.

The $60 million will go toward shoring up levees and flood walls and creating a new flood warning system to help residents better prepare for future storms, Biden further said on Twitter.

Hurricane Fiona
Homes are flooded on Salinas Beach after the passing of Hurricane Fiona in Salinas, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19, 2022. (Alejandro Granadillo/AP Photo)

Cost of Recovery

Fiona struck Puerto Rico a week before Hurricane Ian ravaged Florida as a Category 4 storm before moving north to the Carolinas as a weakened hurricane.

The disaster recovery in those states is expected to cost tens of billions.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre clarified that while the $60 million was nowhere near the estimated costs of Ian in Florida and the Carolinas, it would help with “specific pieces.”

She noted the $60 million is on top of $2 billion already allocated through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law earmarked to build and strengthen the island’s infrastructure.

Criswell also noted Monday, while en route with the president, that FEMA had authorized around $9.5 billion to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid from the impacts of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 5 storm that killed around 3,000 in the Caribbean.

“It’s going to take multiple different funding streams from the federal family to make sure that we’re getting them to a place that they can be more resilient,” Criswell said.

Puerto Rico Tropical Weather
Residents attach protective plywood to a window of their home in preparation for the arrival of Tropical Storm Fiona in Loiza, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 17, 2022. (Alejandro Granadillo/AP Photo)

In September, Fiona brought over 30 inches of rain to some areas of the island, causing flooding and mudslides that damaged roads and bridges.

Criswell said that around 92 percent of power has been restored to the island, and around 95 percent of the water has been patched up with temporary fixes.

Around 100,000 customers remain without power since the hurricane struck two weeks ago, according to LUMA Energy.

Congress wrote to Luma Energy on Sept. 27 expressing “grave concern” about the ongoing outages and disruption of power on the island (pdf).

In the letter, members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce said the outages “amplify concerns that LUMA has failed to adequately develop and maintain crucial electrical infrastructure in Puerto Rico despite its lucrative 15-year contract.”

White House Contrasts Trump’s 2017 Visit

Biden’s visit to Puerto Rico fell on the anniversary of a 2017 visit by then-President Donald Trump after Hurricane Maria, which the White House made a point to contrast.

Prior to departing Washington on Marine One on Monday, Biden alluded to the former administration when he said Puerto Rico hasn’t “been taken very good care of.”

“They’ve been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can,” he said on the south lawn of the White House.

Jean-Pierre made a “fine point” of noting that the Bidens’ visit to Ponce, a hard-hit area, demonstrated Biden’s commitment to Puerto Ricans.

In a bid to paint Biden as more generous than Trump in 2017, Jean-Pierre said Trump had “restricted ability … for Puerto Rico to access $5 billion in funds” that she said was “for critical recovery and reconstruction needs.”

Trump Response Praised by Puerto Rico Officials

In the wake of Maria, Trump visited Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, 2017, receiving praise from island officials for the U.S. government’s federal response to the disaster.

Puerto Rico’s then-governor, Ricardo Rosselló, said the cooperation between local and federal authorities had been crucial.

“I want to let the people of Puerto Rico and the people on the United States know that you have always responded to us,” Rosselló said during Trump’s visit.

“I want to personally thank you, Mr. President, because over the course of the past week you have called essentially every day to make sure we have what we need, to make sure that the resources are over here,” Rosselló said, addressing his remarks to Trump.

At the time, Trump signed a disaster declaration following Maria that allowed the federal government to provide 100 percent funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 180 days.

Trump visits Puerto Rico
President Donald Trump talks with residents as First Lady Melania Trump (C) and U.S. Rep and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer Gonzalez (R) look on as the president visits areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 3, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

More than 12,000 federal responders were deployed to Puerto Rico to help stabilize the situation, enabling water and food supplies to be distributed to staging areas across the island, and the reopening of almost 60 hospitals.

The Trump administration’s aid also saw a decrease in the number of people in shelters.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked with the island’s then-power supplier, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, and the Department of Energy to restore power, which was completely wiped out.

Around 4,000 personnel from different branches of the military were on-site to help during Maria, having been deployed there after Hurricane Irma struck the week before, on Sept. 6, 2017.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, making it neither a U.S. state nor a sovereign nation. Residents don’t have voting rights in U.S. domestic elections unless they move to the mainland.

Biden will visit Florida on Wednesday, a week after it was hit by Hurricane Ian, a devastating Category 4 storm that left two million without power at the height of the outages. State utilities report that power has since been restored to around 80 percent of affected customers.

From The Epoch Times

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