Puerto Rico congresswoman estimates $25 billion needed for Maria emergency aid

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WASHINGTON -- Puerto Rico will need at least $25 billion in federal aid for recovery and rebuilding from the damage inflicted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the island’s sole representative in Congress said Monday.

Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who is also chairman of the Republican party in Puerto Rico, said the preliminary damage estimate from Hurricane Irma was $1 billion before the U.S. commonwealth was subject to a direct hit from Maria last week.

“We’re talking more than $25 billion,’’ said Gonzalez-Colon, who was interviewed by telephone from her office in San Juan. “I don’t know if that will be the final amount. This is just a rough estimate, a preliminary estimate. The government is going to have an official assessment.”

Congress earlier this month approved $15 billion in emergency disaster relief in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma which also is available to help with damage caused by Maria.

U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Monday that Congress is prepared to appropriate additional aid next month for Puerto Rico.

"The stories and images coming out of Puerto Rico are devastating," Ryan said in a press release. "Congress is working with the administration to ensure necessary resources get to the U.S. territory. Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico remain in our prayers as we make sure they have what they need."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined Gonzalez-Colon Monday to tour the damage on the island. The congresswoman, whose official title is resident commissioner, said that she hopes Rubio will be her partner in the
U.S. Senate because the commonwealth doesn’t have a representative there.

The embattled government of Puerto Rico, which already is mired in a fiscal and debt crisis, is compiling an official damage estimate to send to the U.S. federal government.

Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico said Monday that he will ask the federal government to waive a requirement for a local match of 25% of the cost of rebuilding.

"We do not want Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, to become a humanitarian crisis," Rossello told local media.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long, who joined the governor at a news conference, said the relief effort has complicated logistics that include damage to the island's air traffic control system.

“Maria was one mile per hour away from being a Category 5 hurricane but it’s the worse hurricane Puerto Rico has seen,’’ Long said.

“We are asking for a big relief fund to restore our island, to restore power to the island,’’ Gonzalez-Colon said. “We have a lot of highways and roads that were just washed away with the hurricane. People lost their homes.” In addition, there was damage to hospitals, ports and airports, she said.

Gonzalez-Colon praised the response by the FEMA and is hopeful the federal government will continue to be responsive.

“I expect the federal government to treat us like a state,’’ she said.

President Donald Trump has not announced a date for visiting the island to tour the damage, but one of his potential Democratic challengers in the 2020 presidential race, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, visited the commonwealth on Friday.

Cuomo was joined by Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn, who was born in Puerto Rico, and a contingent of state emergency responders who delivered relief supplies.

Cuomo appealed to federal officials to aid Puerto Rico during a news conference held at JFK International Airport Friday upon his return from the daylong visit.

“It’s going to take Washington to stop playing politics, stop trying to figure out how to end healthcare for people, and to start trying to figure out how to help people,’’ Cuomo said.

Velazquez described the hurricane as a “very painful chapter’’ for the island.

“It’s going to take a collective effort of the public and private sectors, because this is going to be a long way to recovery’’ she said. “This is our people suffering and we’ve got to do everything within our power to make Puerto Rico whole again. It is going to cost money, but we have to do it."

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Hurricane Maria Hurricane Irma Hurricane Harvey Puerto Rico Washington DC