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Ricardo Rosselló expects disaster relief on par with that provided to U.S. states.
WASHINGTON — Hurricanes like Maria don’t discriminate based on politics, race or location, and neither should the federal government when doling out disaster relief like it does for states, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said on Monday at the Hall of States in the nation’s capital.
The latest damage assessment places the destruction at $94 billion, Rosselló said, before thanking the White House and Congress for approving a second supplemental relief bill during the territory’s emergency response phase.
“We’re not only looking to rebuild what was before but make it much stronger and more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean and, frankly, the rest of the region,” Rosselló said. “This will be the most transparent recovery effort in the history of the United States.”
“What we are asking for is equal treatment,” he added.
The White House is expected to issue further supplemental relief recommendations Monday, one package arriving before Thanksgiving and another sometime in December. Hurricane Katrina garnered seven aid statutes over a 10-year period, said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, who echoed Rosselló’s praise for Congress’ speedy allocation of funds.
Rosselló, who represents her island’s interest as a non-voting member of the U.S. House, has since provided every federal agency with a request for what Puerto Rico needs.
“Those bills are going to help the island to grow,” González-Colón said.
The governor insisted the $94 billion estimate is conservative and uses similar recent disasters in New York, New Jersey and Texas as its basis.
Rosselló also stressed the importance of keeping the territory’s focus “storm centric” in light of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s cancellation of a controversial energy-restoration contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, which was paying linemen a fraction of the $300 per hour it charged for them, was based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Montana hometown of the same name, and once employed his son. Rosselló petitioned for an investigation into the deal the FBI may be undertaking, but in the meantime the island is approaching an “aggressive” goal of 50 percent energy restoration by Nov. 15.
“Restoring the energy grid right now is the main priority for Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said.
Both Rosselló and González-Colón support Puerto Rican statehood, citing two territorial votes in favor, but agreed disaster relief requires the territory’s immediate attention.
“We want to have the same opportunities, the same tools, that other states have gotten,” González-Colón said.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.