White House announces $11.6 billion aid for Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The federal government will award an $11.6 billion aid package to Puerto Rico, focused on the territory’s energy and education systems, to help the island recover from the devastation brought by 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the White House said on Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will provide $9.6 billion in funding for the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority to make replacements, repairs and improvements to equipment and buildings, the White House said.

The federal government will also provide an additional $2 billion grant for Puerto Rico’s Education Department, the White House said.

In a statement announcing the aid, the White House said, “Together, these grants exceed the total Public Assistance funding in any single federally-declared disaster other than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.”

U.S. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer accused the Trump administration of “slow walking” aid to the U.S. territory and he would work to ensure that Puerto Rico could build a better energy system.

“I will work with the Puerto Rican community to see that these long overdue and desperately needed funds are put to use in a wise way building the cleaner and more resilient energy grid the island deserves,” Schumer said in a statement.

Puerto Rico was already struggling financially before the deadly hurricane struck three years ago, and filed a form of municipal bankruptcy for the commonwealth in 2017 to restructure about $120 billion of debt and obligations.

Since then, the U.S. commonwealth has been hit by more hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval, and has been the target of increased federal scrutiny into its use of U.S. aid. A large portion of its financial distress was linked to the territory’s power utility.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are working to woo Hispanic voters in the Nov. 3 election, where U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, is in a tight race against Democrat Joe Biden.

Biden said Trump “has done nothing but assault the dignity of Hispanic families” in a speech on Tuesday in Kissimmee, Florida, where many people settled after fleeing Maria’s devastation.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey/Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

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