Three Years After Hurricane Maria Hit Puerto Rico, Trump Administration Announces $13 Billion in Aid to Island

The North Star has dropped its paywall during this COVID-19 crisis so that pertinent information and analysis is available to everyone during this time. This is only possible because of the generous support of our members. We rely on these funds to pay our staff to continue to provide high-quality content. If you are able to support, we invite you to do so here.

The Trump administration announced on Sept.18 that an additional $13 billion in assistance will go to help Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure three years after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

The statement said that roughly $9.6 billion in funding will be directed to the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority (PREPA) to repair the U.S. territory’s electrical grid system, while $2 billion will go toward the Puerto Rico Department of Education “to help restore school buildings and other educational facilities across the island.”

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced thanked Presiden Donald Trump in a tweet following the announcement, stating that the funds were the "largest approval in FEMA history."

The news comes just weeks away from the 2020 presidential election, as Trump attempts to win over voters in Florida, many of whom are Puerto Ricans who fled to the states following the hurricane, The New York Times reported. Trump declared that he was “the best thing that ever happened” to the island after releasing the long-overdue hurricane aid.

“I’m the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico,” he said, according to The Times. “Nobody even close.”

Many criticized Trump for releasing the aid now, with some saying that he is just trying to pander to voters. U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) told the New York Daily News that Puerto Rican voters living in the states remember how Trump treated their friends and families when they needed help the most.

"It’s obvious why this is happening now,” Velazquez said. “Forty-six days before Election Day — he’s playing politics with this assistance.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz also slammed Trump, noting that the funds can’t erase the past.

“$13 billion dollars three years after María will not erase the bureaucracy and incompetence that killed 3,000 of us. Money cannot erase the discrimination against us by Trump and his administration. WE WILL NEVER FORGET,” Cruz tweeted.

Three years too late

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in 2017, destroying the homes of thousands of people and killing at least 2,975 people, according to NBC News.

Following the Category 4 storm, reports claimed that the death toll could exceed 4,000 people. Researchers at the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University announced this month they had received a $1 million contract to investigate the deaths that might have been missed, The Washington Post reported.

Prior to the Trump administration’s announcement on the release of the hurricane aid, the Biden campaign revealed its plan to fix Puerto Rico’s infrastructure caused by the damage of the deadly storm. The six-page plan proposed relieving the island of its debt, strengthening its power system, improving access to affordable healthcare and providing Social Security Income benefits.

“Whether you live in Reading, Pennsylvania; Kissimmee, Florida; or San Juan, Puerto Rico, you deserve a fair return for your work, an equal chance to get ahead, and a government that treats every American citizen equally and has your back when you get knocked down,” the Biden campaign said.

There have been recent calls for Puerto Rico to become a state, which would allow Puerto Ricans, who are full-fledged U.S. citizens, the right to vote during general elections. In August, Representative Velasquez and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote in an essay on NBC News Think that they have introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which would create a Status Convention in Puerto Rico’s legislature.

The convention, whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters, would allow Puerto Ricans to decide their own fate, “be that statehood, independence, free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement,” the representatives wrote.

“The key is that this framework would be developed by Puerto Ricans and for Puerto Ricans, not dictated to them like so many previous policies,” the essay read.