Puerto Rico Seeks $94 Billion In Federal Aid After Hurricane

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico as a nonvoting member of Congress, listens as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello speaks during a news conference to urge Congress to include Puerto Rico in the Supplemental Disaster Relief Package, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Puerto Rico’s governor on Monday asked the federal government for $94.4 billion as the island struggles to recover from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria, with much of the U.S. territory without power and thousands still homeless.

Ricardo Rosello also urged Congress to adopt a tax overhaul plan that addresses Puerto Rico’s specific needs to avoid an exodus of the companies that currently generate 42 percent of the island’s gross domestic product.

The governor said during a news conference that he will formally make his request to the White House and Congress, along with a report with a detailed assessment of damage. The governor 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.

So far, Congress has approved nearly $5 billion in aid for Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage on Sept. 20 and the worst blackout in U.S. history.

The request from Puerto Rico surpasses the $61 billion that Texas is pursuing from the federal government for infrastructure improvements.

“This is a transformative moment in the history of Puerto Rico,” Rosello wrote to President Donald Trump. “We recognize that your leadership, along with that of leaders from both parties, will be essential to our recovery, and the future economic and fiscal health of the island.”

Rosello announced that his team will create a portal that will allow the public to track the status of recovery and funds. That is part of an effort to placate concerns after the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority selected Whitefish Energy Holdings to help rebuild the island’s electrical system, even though it had just two employees when the hurricane struck.

The contract was canceled on Oct. 29 amid bipartisan criticism from members of Congress and a request by Rossello to void the deal.

On the tax front, Rosello asked Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from a proposed excise tax of 20 percent for merchandise manufactured abroad because products manufactured in Puerto Rico and imported into the U.S. should be treated as domestic products.

Republicans hope to finalize a tax overhaul by Christmas and send the legislation to Trump for his signature.

“If the goal of the tax reform is to create American jobs, then Puerto Rico must be taken into consideration,” the governor said. “If not, it would end up being worst than how it is today.”

By LUIS ALONSO LUGO - Nov 13. 1:50 PM EDT AP

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Follow Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo

 

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