Congress is poised to pass its first disaster relief plan since October on Thursday as part of a massive government spending deal, but the funds doled out to Puerto Rico fall far short of what Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked for in November, and more money may not be on the horizon.
Rosselló asked for $94.4 billion from Congress to rebuild and remake Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage and triggered an exodus of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland.
He got about $17 billion.
Included in the $17 billion total is $2 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid, about $15 billion less than Rosselló requested, and $4.8 billion for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid fund that was set to run out of money in a matter of weeks.
The $2 billion for Puerto Rico’s electric grid, which affects about 3.5 million people, is less than what Congress secured for Florida’s citrus industry after Hurricane Irma destroyed most of last year’s crop, resulting in a loss of about $760 million and higher orange juice prices.
Florida’s citrus industry, which employs about 45,000 people, received $300 million more than Puerto Rico’s power grid.
“Let’s put it this way, we cannot miss the fact that obviously we lack representation in Congress,” Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration executive director Carlos Mercader said. “We don’t have two senators, we don’t have four or five congressmen to be like Florida. Florida is one of the biggest delegations in Congress, and the storm in Florida happened before the storm in Puerto Rico and they were working for [citrus funding] to be included even before this last supplemental, and they got it here.”
Mercader said Thursday’s disaster funding agreement “was a very good step towards recovery” and said it was a massive improvement over the last disaster funding bill passed in October, which didn’t include any specific funds for Puerto Rico.
“We know this is a process and we’re glad that Congress included Puerto Rico,” Mercader said. “We’re glad that Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on this. Now we’re hopeful we can continue to work with them on the steps that need to be taken.”
But a Democratic aide said it was unclear if a Republican-controlled Congress will have the appetite for another massive disaster deal in 2018.
“With GOP in control, I think a lot of people around here would be surprised if we see another one this year,” the aide said. “Whether we see one next year will depend on who controls Congress.”
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