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Puerto Rico governor turns to diaspora to lobby Congress

By on October 10, 2017

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló urged Puerto Ricans residing stateside to demand action from their members of Congress to approve short- and long-term aid packages for Puerto Rico’s recovery from the devastation wrought by Hurricane María more than two weeks ago.

The governor appealed to the Puerto Rican diaspora Monday after he sent letters Saturday to President Donald Trump and the majority and minority leadership in Congress, urging the swift approval of “immediate relief” in the form of $4.6 billion in federal funds for the island.

According to Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado, the funds will be used to operate the government as of Oct. 31, by when it is project the local treasury’s will not have any more funds available.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned that a delayed response from the U.S. Congress and government would unleash a “humanitarian crisis” in Puerto Rico. (Jaime Rivera/CB)

In the letters, the governor uses as a starting point the $95 billion that Moody’s Analytics estimated in damages caused by María in Puerto Rico. This, according to Rosselló, is about 150 percent of the island’s gross national product.

The governor also said that if the federal government doesn’t act, a “humanitarian crisis” will ensue on the island that would lead to a migration wave of Puerto Ricans to Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and others.

“This supplemental should serve as a down payment on hurricane recovery efforts while we await full assessment of needs,” Rosselló wrote.

“It is critical that we continue to act, and my request to the Puerto Rican diaspora and all U.S. citizens who are tuning in is to call their congressmen and ask them to push this immediate remedy so Puerto Rico can have a way to begin to rebuild,” the governor said at a press conference in the Miramar Convention Center, which is currently serving as the government’s emergency command center (COE by its Spanish initials).

Specifically, the $4.6 billion is  divided in seven federal programs: $3.2 million in Community Development Block Grants; $500 million in the Community Disaster Loan Program; $500 million in Social Services Block Grant; $149 million in the Emergency Relief Program; $90 million in the Disaster Loan Program; $83 million in the Commodity Assistance Program; and $78 million in the State Educational Agencies / Hurricane Education Recovery.

“There is a petition to Congress for an ‘immediate relief effort.’ This is not what would make an impact on the cost and devastation of this hurricane, but it would be initial capital that can be granted to Puerto Rico to mitigate the economic impact, the impact of the emergency and the operation,” he said.

Hurricane María death toll in Puerto Rico increased to 43

The governor added that Texas was granted a similar relief of $7.5 billion after Hurricane Harvey.

Afterward, Congress would have to approve, the governor said, a “long-term recovery package for Puerto Rico” that includes all damages caused by the hurricane, which left most Puerto Ricans without electricity, water and telecommunications services. Nearly three weeks after the Category-4 storm, only 15 percent of Electric Power Authority customers have service, 59.5 percent have water, and 51 percent have telecommunications services.

Liquidity discussed with US Treasury

Rosselló said his administration has been meeting with the U.S. Treasury Department to discuss the government’s liquidity.

“Our work teams keep meeting to then have the conversation and be able to establish the liquidity needs until the end of the year in Puerto Rico,” the governor said without going into further detail. He has said the government will not be generating revenue for the next few months.

This isn’t the first time Rosselló has urged the U.S. Congress and government to take action. On Sept. 25, he also warned of a possible “humanitarian crisis” in Puerto Rico if Congress didn’t approve the funds necessary for hurricane relief efforts.

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