In visit to island, US president says he will ensure that Puerto Rico gets promised assistance after devastating storm.
US President Joe Biden has announced $60m in aid to Puerto Rico to help the island strengthen its infrastructure after the passage of Hurricane Fiona, which caused widespread destruction across the Caribbean last month.
During a visit to Puerto Rico on Monday, Biden highlighted federal efforts to help the island deal with the aftermath of the hurricane, including cash assistance, compensation for damaged homes and a major disaster declaration that he issued to cover the cost of debris removal.
“We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised, and I’m determined help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger,” Biden said.
Prior to his departure from the US, Biden said the people of Puerto Rico have not been “taken very good care of”, promising to do everything possible to assist the island.
Puerto Ricans are US citizens. A former Spanish colony, the island of 3.2 million people was acquired by the United States in 1898. It remains a US territory — not a state — with no representation in the US Congress.
Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico in September causing catastrophic flooding and landslides, and disruption to water and electricity supplies. Health officials on the island have linked at least 25 deaths to the hurricane.
On Sunday, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said power has been restored to 90 percent of residents in Puerto Rico, calling it an “important milestone”.
“While we’re grateful for this progress, we realize the work is not over. Efforts to rebuild and help those impacted will continue,” she wrote in a series of tweets.
Granholm added that her agency is working to strengthen the island’s electric grid as “devastating impacts from climate change” make storms more dangerous and destructive.
Amid the climate crisis, Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean are seeing an uptick in devastating storms and hurricanes.
Five years ago, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc across the island and caused thousands of fatalities. Then-President Donald Trump was heavily criticised for his response to the hurricane.
On Monday, Biden said the new $60m in aid will help coastal areas in Puerto Rico “become better prepared” for storms.
“We have to do more; we have to ensure that when the next hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico is ready,” he said.
Speaking before Biden on Monday, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he asked the US president to extend the major disaster declaration by 180 days and to prioritise aid to farmers and funding for climate change mitigation.
“We want to be treated in the same way as our fellow Americans in the states in times of need,” Pierluisi said.
“All American citizens — regardless of where they live in the United States — should receive this same support from the federal government. We’re confident that the president will heed our call for equal treatment because that is consistent with his priorities and his policies.”
Biden’s trip to Puerto Rico comes ahead of a visit to Florida, where he will inspect the damage from Hurricane Ian on Wednesday. The Category 4 hurricane killed at least 85 people last week after it made landfall in Florida and made its way north, creating a path of destruction in Georgia and the Carolinas.