Puerto Rico ran the risk that the funds to address disasters would be taken over by other jurisdictions. (horizontal-x3)
Puerto Rico ran the risk that the funds to address disasters would be taken over by other jurisdictions. (GFR Media)

When debating Congress aid packages to jurisdictions hit by natural disasters, Puerto Rico had a great disadvantage: other states recovery plans were more advanced.

This was because of the simple fact that the last disaster of 2017 was Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. That is, the island had less time -for damage evaluation and to estimate the aid that would be needed- than Florida, Texas and California, also impacted by hurricanes and forest fires.

So explained yesterday Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares in an interview about the contribution of his administration in the process of reaching $ 16 billion for the recovery of the island.

That is the reason why, when the House was debating an aid package for areas affected by natural disasters, he stressed that the funds for Puerto Rico should be separated from the rest of the aid. This way, states with more advanced reconstruction plans would not use that money.

But that did not happen, noted Rosselló. The House passed a measure that allocated $ 81 billion for states affected by natural disasters, but there was not a single specific penny for Puerto Rico. The bill was blocked in the US Senate.

"We went back to the efforts to speak with the Senate leadership while Jenniffer González (Resident Commissioner) did the same in the House," explained the governor.

Conversations with federal lawmakers had several objectives. One was to prove with data the needs and the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Another was to show the tight financial state of the Puerto Rican government and public corporations, so that there would be concessions in the matching of funds required by federal recovery programs.

In the process, the governor and his officials met with more than 70 federal leawmakers, the vast majority in the Senate. Specifically, Rosselló Nevares highlighted conversations with leaders of the Senate Republican majority and the Democratic minority, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, respectively. In the Senate, they were debating disaster aids to be integrated into a supplementary budget bill that, if not approved, could lead to a federal government shutdown. 

Democratic votes were needed to pass the bill. The governor is member of that party.  "Aid for Puerto Rico was one of the pillars of the Democratic leader in Senate. If there was no support for Puerto Rico, there would be no votes, " he said.

"The bill came from the Senate, not from the House. When (the bill) went to the House, Jenniffer (González) did an extraordinary job to tie the majority of the Republicans," he added, highlighting the work han in hand with Commissioner González.

"In the House, there were more Republicans who voted in favor than Democrats and in the Senate it was the other way around. That indicates a bit the approach we wanted to pose, "he said.

The final approval was reached on Friday with the signing of the budget bill by President Donald Trump. The bill provides about $ 16 billion for Puerto Rico and access to federal programs, which could total about $ 46 billion.


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