Puerto Rico seeks $94 billion in federal aid after hurricanes
SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló presented Monday a preliminary document that concludes Puerto Rico sustained $94 billion in damage from hurricanes Irma and María in September.
At a conference in Washington, D.C., alongside Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, the governor said the document was drafted with the help of the private sector and nonprofit organizations.
Although Rosselló thanked Congress for the help it has provided so far, he stressed that it what is needed is not only rebuilding Puerto Rico, but doing it in a stronger and more resilient way that serves as a model for other countries. The governor promised the recovery process would be transparent and include a webpage where related work may be seen in real time.
“What we are asking for is equal treatment,” Rosselló said. “This was a natural disaster.” He said the amount sought is a conservative figure because it takes into account hidden infrastructure damage. “Sometimes we forget that two storms came to Puerto Rico,” he added.
González said the report also allows for identifying infrastructure that requires “reconstruction,” adding she did not want to use the word repair because the infrastructure has to be rebuilt. “We aren’t asking for money for the sake of asking, but to cover the damage,” she said.
In that regard, she called for changes to the Stafford Act, which only allows for damaged infrastructure to be rebuilt to its original state. González, however, said reconstruction must be an improvement and robust.
This week, it is expected more aid for the island will be introduced, and another round in December, to help in the island’s reconstruction. When Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, the state received supplemental aid for 10 years. So far, Congress has approved nearly $5 billion in aid for Puerto Rico.
Rosselló is seeking $46 billion to restore housing through the Community Development Block Grant program, $30 billion within the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover critical infrastructure and $17.9 billion in other federal grant programs for long-term recovery.
Regarding federal tax reform, Rosselló stressed that Puerto Rico should not be treated as a foreign jurisdiction if the intention of the measure is to attract jobs to the United States. The congressionally proposed plans would be disastrous for the island’s manufacturing industry because they include a 20% tax on imports produced in foreign jurisdictions, which Puerto Rico is considered for tax purposes.
The commonwealth government wants the tax to be eliminated because it would result in the loss of jobs and an exodus of the companies that currently generate 42 percent of the island’s gross domestic product.
“Puerto Rico is part of the United States and that has to be said,” he stressed.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report.