WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration announced on Thursday it has made $40 million of “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to help restore roads and bridges in Puerto Rico that were damaged by Hurricane Maria.
The aid followed reports that food water and other supplies had arrived at Puerto Rico’s main port in San Juan but were stuck there because damaged roads and other infrastructure was preventing it from being distributed.
DOT said these funds will supplement $2.5 million in ER funds already awarded to the commonwealth for damages related to Hurricane Irma.
“It is critical to get the island’s infrastructure in working condition as soon as possible so relief supplies and other assistance can be delivered to the people of Puerto Rico,” said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao.
“Release of these funds is appropriate, but clearly much more needs to be done,” said a spokesman for Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y.
In addition, the White House announced that President Trump has agreed, at the request of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello, to waive the Jones Act in an effort to temporarily lift shipping restrictions that apply to the commonwealth.
The near-century old act, which is designed to promote U.S. shipping, bars foreign ships from transporting cargo between the U.S. and noncontiguous parts of the nation, including Puerto Rico, making shipping costs higher.
But Velázquez criticized the action, calling it “too little, too late” and saying the waiver is only for 10 days when it should last one year if it is to really help Puerto Rico.
“A ten-day waiver, as the Administration has announced, is far from sufficient given the scope of this tragedy,” Velázquez said. “Moreover, as Puerto Rico begins the long road of rebuilding, it will be difficult to do so if building supplies cost double what they are priced on the mainland. To that end, I repeat my previous call for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration said it has restored air traffic control services to Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan and that the airport is supporting more than a dozen commercial passenger flights per day.
The FAA said it has restored limited ATC services to Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla but that the Fernando Luis Ribes Dominicci Airport in San Juan remains out of operation.
The Federal Transit Administration said it has awarded $8. 4 million of grant funding to support Puerto Rico’s transit systems.
The Maritime Administration said it has provided three vessels to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. They are docked or en route to the Caribbean and are to provide power, food, clean water and berthing to first responders in an effort to free up hotels for displaced Puerto Ricans.
The House on Thursday approved legislation that would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to continue to operate and that contained several tax relief measures to aid hurricane victims.
The bill would modify several tax provisions and rules for individuals and businesses in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, including provisions regarding: early withdrawals and loans from retirement plans, employment-related tax credits, deductions for charitable contributions, deductions for personal casualty losses, and income requirements for the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.
On Wednesday, at least 145 Democrats in Congress, led by Velázquez and Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to President Trump urging him to direct the Defense Department to deploy additional resources to help recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“First and foremost, a senior general officer must be appointed to work with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to manage a joint response and assist with the recovery effort on the ground, and enable local constituencies to have a single point of contact,” the letter said, noting this was done in response to Hurricane Katrina.
The Democrats also asked that the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, be sent to the region and for DOD to help address security issues, generally looting and crime.