WASHINGTON – Puerto Rico is getting much of the money it needs to rebuild its power grid three years after it was wiped out by Hurricane Maria, the island territory's governor and the White House said Friday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released $13 billion for reconstruction of the grid and to help rebuild schools damaged by the storm. The money has become an issue in the presidential campaign as President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden court voters in the crucial swing state of Florida. The state is home to one of the largest populations of people from Puerto Rico in the United States — including many who fled Hurricane Maria.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced the funding in a series of tweets, thanking Trump for his approval of the assistance amid criticism that his administration has been slow to release support for the devastated island in the wake of Maria.
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat, said the timing was notable, three years after the storm knocked out the territory’s problem-plagued electrical grid and caused the longest blackout in U.S. history.
“The Trump Administration delayed, dragged its feet and resisted allocating these badly needed funds,” said Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico. “Now, forty-six days before the election, the Administration has finally seen fit to release these funds.”
The White House said $9.6 billion would be to help the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority to repair and replace thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems, office buildings, and make other grid improvements.
It also released $2 billion for the Puerto Rico Department of Education to repair schools across the island.
Hurricane Maria slammed into the island in September 2017 with winds of 155 mph, causing an estimated $100 billion in damage and killing nearly 3,000 people, according to the official death toll. Even now, thousands of homes are still damaged.
Power wasn't restored island-wide until nearly 11 months after the storm. Even now, the system remains vulnerable, with outages affecting tens of thousands of people on a regular basis.
In October, the island's government announced a 10-year plan to modernize and strengthen the power grid at a projected cost of around $20 billion. Congress has approved about $50 billion to help rebuild the island, home to more than 3 million U.S. citizens.