Trump administration announces $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will award grants designed to bolster Puerto Rico's electrical grid and spur recovery of its education system.
Roughly $9.6 billion in funding will be directed toward the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority to repair electrical substations, power generation systems and transmission lines. Another $2 billion will be used to restore school buildings and educational facilities.
The move comes as President Trump seeks to win over as many voters as possible in must-win Florida, home to about a million former residents of Puerto Rico, many of whom still have family on the island.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced thanked Trump and the White House in a tweet confirming the funding, which she hailed as the "largest approval in FEMA history."
The White House touted the funding as evidence of the administration's commitment to the island.
"Today’s grant announcements represent some of the largest awards in FEMA’s history for any single disaster recovery event and demonstrate the Federal Government’s continuing commitment to help rebuild the territory and support the citizens of Puerto Rico and their recovery goals," press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
The president detailed the aid to Puerto Rico during a news conference later Friday, where he also pledged to bring back medical distribution and manufacturing to the island. He also used the White House briefing to accuse Biden of devastating the island with his past policies, a transparent effort to score political points with Puerto Rican voters.
"I have to say in a very nice way, very respectful way, I'm the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico. Nobody even close," Trump said.
Asked why it had taken so long to release the aid for Puerto Rico, Trump said it had been in the works for awhile and blamed Democrats for the delay. But the funds had already been allocated to FEMA, meaning the administration could have distributed them at any point in the last several months.
“This is clearly a desperate, political stunt to win over Puerto Rican supporters," Tatiana Matta, Latino adviser to the Biden campaign, said in a statement. "For the thousands of families who had to leave the island, for all those we've lost, for those who still struggle everyday to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, it is three years too little and too late.
The recovery efforts in Puerto Rico have been slow and at times hampered by Trump, who has lashed out at criticism over his response to Maria.
The hurricane crippled island infrastructure for months, and a government-commissioned study found that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of it.
Trump has questioned the death toll, claiming it was inflated to make him look bad. He has repeatedly gone after the mayor of San Juan and derided the island as "one of the most corrupt places on Earth."
Island officials have complained that aid has been slow to roll in from the administration. The Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this year lifted a months-long hold on roughly $8 billion in disaster aid to help the island rebuild.