On Friday, Sept. 18, President Trump announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be sending almost $13 billion, including $11.6 billion in federal funding, in aid to Puerto Rico to help rebuild. This announcement came almost exactly three years after Hurricane Maria caused devastating damage in Sept. 2017. Congress had approved this allocation of funds in 2018.
The grants are two of the largest grants ever awarded by FEMA and, according to the White House website, “illustrate President Trump’s unwavering commitment to rebuilding Puerto Rico and aiding Puerto Ricans as they continue to recover from multiple natural disasters.”
In what was called the “most devastating U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years,” Hurricane Maria slammed the island with winds of 155 mph, killed almost 3000 residents of Puerto Rico (leaving even more of them without homes) and caused about $100 million in damage. Since then, earthquakes, flash floods, an economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic have caused even more devastation to the island.
The announcement of this aid came less than fifty days before the presidential election. President Trump had previously criticized the officials of Puerto Rico and stated that no more money needed to go there because it would be “wasted.”
When asked why he had approved money to go there so close to the election, Trump responded that he had been advocating for this money to be sent for a long time but it had been held up by Democrats in Congress.
The White House announced that $9.6 million included in this aid sent by FEMA will be used to restore electrical grids that had left Puerto Rico with the longest blackout in U.S. history. $2 billion will be used for the Department of Education to help repair school buildings across the island. With this new amount of aid, the White House announced they had thus far sent about $26 billion to Puerto Rico. Congress has approved about $43 billion.
In an interview with CBS news, Puerto Rican resident Angel Perez said the United States government has been of very little help in Puerto Rico’s recovery. “As a community social worker, I can tell you that Puerto Rico’s recovery, if it can be called that, didn’t come thanks to the government,” said Perez. It came from nonprofit associations, it came from the neighbors themselves. It came from foundations. It came from the hands of other people who supported the families that suffered the most.”
When asked about this new announcement of funding, students at Alma had some different opinions. Some felt straightforwardly about the aid. “I believe that the U.S. should fulfill this promise as best they can to help Puerto Rico,” said Lucy Woods (‘24). “I would like for all of that money to get there. I believe that when you promise something, you should fulfill that promise.”
Some students felt rather conflicted about this amount of money sent to Puerto Rico. “I would like for America to send as much aid as they possibly can to Puerto Rico because they’ve got a lot of problems,” said David Troyer (‘24). “The hurricane caused so much devastation and they need all the help they can get. However, national debt has increased and with the election, I think this decision needs to be postponed for a couple more months unless the current administration can figure something out.”
The 3.2 million residents of Puerto Rico are not eligible to vote in the U.S. election, but they will be electing a governor and a few other local officials on the same day. However, all the residents of Puerto Rico that fled the island and now reside in the United States will be voting in the election on Nov. 3.