Trump Administration Announces $11.6 Billion in Aid for Puerto Rico--5th Update
By Andrew Restuccia and Andrew Scurria
WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced $11.6 billion
in aid to Puerto Rico, as the U.S. territory continues to struggle
from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the
president's reelection campaign courts Puerto Rican voters in
The Federal Emergency Management Administration infrastructure
grants include $9.6 billion in federal funding for the Puerto Rico
Electrical Power Authority, the island's bankrupt public power
monopoly known as Prepa, to repair the island's electric grid. The
administration also announced $2 billion for the island's education
department to rebuild schools.
The September 2017 hurricane killed an estimated 3,000 people,
but some outside studies say that figure could be higher. It
decimated the island's power grid and led to flooding and
landslides that destroyed much of the territory's infrastructure.
This summer, Hurricane Isaias also caused flooding and damage on
the island, and it was hit by a series of earthquakes earlier this
Mr. Trump has in the past expressed reluctance to send aid to
Puerto Rico, raising concerns about corruption on the island and
asserting that the money would be misused. The president has also
publicly criticized Puerto Rican officials. In 2018, he falsely
accused Democrats of inflating the death toll from the hurricane to
"make me look as bad as possible."
The release of the aid comes as Mr. Trump is trailing in
national polls behind his Democratic opponent, former Vice
President Joe Biden, and the pair are running neck-and-neck in
Florida. Both campaigns view Florida, with its growing Puerto Rican
population, as a crucial state.
Mr. Biden has ramped up outreach to Florida's Latino voters amid
polling that shows Mr. Trump has a narrow edge over the former vice
president in that demographic. Mr. Biden recently campaigned in the
city of Kissimmee, which has a large Puerto Rican population, and
his campaign called for establishing a federal working group for
Puerto Rico and boosting federal assistance toward rebuilding the
island's infrastructure and other economic recovery efforts.
The groundwork for the release of aid for Puerto Rico's battered
energy grid was laid in June when Prepa signed a long-term deal to
privatize the business of delivering electricity.
The agreement was designed to address a litany of problems that
have long beset the public monopoly -- years of underinvestment, a
legacy of political interference, roughly $9 billion in debt and a
tattered power infrastructure.
Prepa emerged as a crown-jewel government asset during the 1940s
and 1950s, powering Puerto Rico's postwar industrialization efforts
and helping to turn it into a manufacturing hub for pharmaceuticals
and medical devices. But the utility became less efficient over
time, skimping on capital investments while piling up debts. It was
also plagued by frequent turnover in its ranks, with high-level
executives cycling in and out depending on the party in power.
Trump administration officials made clear that assistance for
the power grid was conditioned on Puerto Rico taking steps to
reform the utility, reflecting the president's concerns that money
sent to the territory from Washington wouldn't be well-spent,
people familiar with the matter said.
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D., N.Y.) said Puerto Rico "has been
desperate for federal assistance to modernize and upgrade its
electrical grid for years, especially since Hurricane Maria
inflicted on the Island the longest blackout in modern
"Yet, as is too often the case with Puerto Rico, the Trump
administration delayed, dragged its feet and resisted allocating
these badly needed funds," the congresswoman said.
Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com and Andrew
Scurria at Andrew.Scurria@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 18, 2020 12:53 ET (16:53 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.