October 31, 2020

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White House announces $11.6B hurricane relief for Puerto Rico

The Trump administration announced a massive aid package for Puerto Rico on Friday, three years after two hurricanes ravaged the U.S. island territory.

The aid, issued through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, includes $9.6 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s battered electrical grid and $2 billion to restore storm-damaged schools and other education facilities, according to a White House statement. The new awards bring to $26 billion the total amount of federal funding obligated to Puerto Rico’s recovery, the statement said.

The announcement marks a turnaround for President Donald Trump, whose administration held up reconstruction aid sitting in the Department of Housing and Urban Development for years while he regularly bashed Puerto Rico officials as corrupt and inept. “The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA,” Trump tweeted in August 2019.

But the burst of new aid, coming less than seven weeks before the presidential election, could help buoy Trump’s electoral prospects in the pivotal state of Florida, which has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans since hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island in 2017.

A series of supplemental spending packages were enacted after the 2017 hurricanes, but FEMA has been slow in getting the money out the door. Friday’s grant awards amount to more than 80 percent of the agency’s funding obligations in Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Maria, the more devastating of the two storms, over the past year, according to FEMA reporting.

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