Puerto Rico seeks aid from US to avoid government shutdown
The many problems afflicting Puerto Rico are worsening every day, with the principal issue being the shortage of electricity. Vox reports that by the time Maria hit the island, approximately 60,000 people were already without power. Maria left most of Puerto Rico without electricity, which means that a large number of people have been living without electricity for over a month. According to Vox, nearly 80 percent of the island’s power transmission lines were knocked out, and by Oct. 3, it was reported that most Puerto Ricans were still living without power.
While generators were distributed to offer aid, there are issues with finding fuel for the generators to actually function. Since many roads have been damaged by the hurricane, it is difficult to get around. Communication has also been made more difficult.
Most cellphone towers are wiped out, weather radars are not functioning, airports are full of island residents waiting for a vacancy on a plane and fuel is difficult to obtain.
Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was already fragile and falling apart prior to the storm, and the storm has only made matters worse. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that 59 out of 69 hospitals have had their power restored, with the rest still depending on generators for electricity.
At least two people have died because they had no access to diesel. According to The New York Times, Maria completely decimated Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry, which resulted in a $780 million loss for the island.
Months prior to the disastrous storm, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy, with a debt of over $70 billion, the largest ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy in history, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In May, a plan had been put into place to ensure that the island paid a fraction of the debt in a period of 10 years.
However, it is now extremely unlikely, if not impossible, that the plan can be carried out. On the contrary, Puerto Rico is asking the United States for emergency financial aid to recover from damages incurred by Maria.
Puerto Rico has estimated that it will cost them around $60 billion for them to get back on their feet. However, Moody Analytics estimated that it could cost them over $90 billion.
The island will have zero revenue for the next couple of months and even just restoring electricity could take anywhere from four to six months, according to Vox. The financial state Puerto Rico is in could lead to a complete government shutdown if overseas aid is not provided immediately.
President Donald Trump recently visited the island for a period of four and a half hours, a much-anticipated visit that received criticism because of the delay in making the trip. Prior to his visit, he released a tweet in which he accused San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, of demonstrating poor leadership and criticized the unwillingness of Puerto Rico to solve their own problems. With tension being created between Cruz and Trump, the visit was an opportunity for them to come together and create a plan for the people of Puerto Rico.
During Trump’s visit to the island, he was lambasted for some comments he made and the lack of empathy he demonstrated through his behavior. As CNN reports, Trump said, “I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack…” He also made several comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, claiming that Hurricane Maria was not a real storm compared to Katrina. Trump repeatedly asked about Puerto Rico’s death count and contrasted it with that of Katrina’s.
Trump was also criticized for throwing paper towels at people in a manner somewhat belittling to Puerto Ricans, with many Puerto Ricans feeling indignant due to his behavior. Despite his comments and behavior, Trump has stated that his administration is preparing a $29 billion disaster aid package to cover damage caused by recent major storms, including Hurricane Maria. However, both the public and experts are urging for more funds, as they claim that the amount being promised is not enough. Congress will also need to act quickly in order to prevent a potential shutdown of Puerto Rico’s government at the end of October.
Trump has also stated that Puerto Rico’s debt will be wiped. Additionally, the Jones Act, which required that all goods ferried between U.S. ports needs to be carried on ships built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens, will be allowed to expire, easing the transfer of help and provisions to the island.