Trump lashes out at Puerto Rico as House weighs aid pack­age

The News (New Glasgow) - - WORLD -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lashed out at hur­ri­cane-dev­as­tated Puerto Rico on Thurs­day, in­sist­ing that fed­eral help will be lim­ited and blam­ing the U.S. ter­ri­tory for its fi­nan­cial strug­gles. The broad­side came as the House headed to­ward pas­sage of a US$36.5 bil­lion dis­as­ter aid pack­age, in­clud­ing as­sis­tance for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has been reel­ing since Hur­ri­cane Maria struck three weeks ago, leav­ing death and de­struc­tion in an un­par­al­leled hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. Forty­five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Maria, 90 per cent of the is­land is still with­out power and the gov­ern­ment says it hopes to have elec­tric­ity re­stored com­pletely by March.

Trump tweeted: “We can­not keep FEMA, the Mil­i­tary & the First Re­spon­ders, who have been amaz­ing (un­der the most dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances) in P.R. for­ever!”

In a se­ries of tweets, the pres­i­dent said “elec­tric and all in­fra­struc­ture was dis­as­ter be­fore hur­ri­canes.” He blamed Puerto Rico for its loom­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis and “a to­tal lack of ac­count­abil­ity.”

The leg­isla­tive aid pack­age to­tals $36.5 bil­lion and sticks close to a White House re­quest. For now, it ig­nores huge de­mands from the pow­er­ful Florida and Texas del­e­ga­tions, which to­gether pressed for some $40 bil­lion more.

A steady se­ries of dis­as­ters could put 2017 on track to ri­val Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of dis­as­ters ever. Ka­t­rina re­quired about $110 bil­lion in emer­gency ap­pro­pri­a­tions.

The bill com­bines $18.7 bil­lion for the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency with $16 bil­lion to per­mit the fi­nan­cially trou­bled fed­eral flood in­sur­ance pro­gram pay an in­flux of Har­vey-re­lated claims. An ad­di­tional $577 mil­lion would pay for western fire­fight­ing ef­forts.

Up to $5 bil­lion of the FEMA money could be used to help lo­cal gov­ern­ments re­main func­tional as they en­dure un­sus­tain­able cash short­falls in the af­ter­math of Maria, which has choked off rev­enues and strained re­sources.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., planned to visit Puerto Rico on Fri­day. He has promised the is­land will get what it needs.

“It’s not easy when you’re used to live in an Amer­i­can way of life, and then some­body tell you that you’re go­ing to be with­out power for six or eight months,” said Res­i­dent Com­mis­sioner Jen­nif­fer Gon­za­lez-Colon, who rep­re­sents Puerto Rico as a non­vot­ing mem­ber of Congress. “It’s not easy when you are con­tinue to suf­fer — see the suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple with­out food, with­out wa­ter, and ac­tu­ally liv­ing in a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.”

The GOP-run Congress had pro­tracted de­bates last year on modest re­quests by for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to com­bat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michi­gan, re­pair its lead-tainted wa­ter sys­tem. Now, it is mov­ing quickly to take care of this year’s crises, quickly pass­ing a $15.3 bil­lion mea­sure last month and sig­nalling that an­other in­stall­ment is com­ing next month.

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In this Sept. 28 photo, de­stroyed com­mu­ni­ties are seen in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico.

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