Congresswoman: Puerto Rico Receiving More Than $1.6 Billion in Direct Federal Aid

Melanie Arter | October 4, 2017 | 4:59pm EDT
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Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (Photo courtesy of House website)

( - Puerto Rico’s only congresswoman, Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) defended President Donald Trump’s comments about the hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico throwing the federal budget “out of whack.”

During his visit Tuesday, Trump said, “Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico - and that’s fine.”

When asked what she thought of the president’s comments during a gaggle on board Air Force One, , Gonzalez-Colon said, “We are receiving more than $1.6 billion in direct help. We're talking about commodities. We're talking about water, diesel tanks, personnel that is in the island, so we know this is a -- we are part of the U.S., so this is the help we need at this time of need.

“So, I mean, he's just saying that -- many people are saying that the U.S. is not doing enough, but in the forefront with $1.6 billion in the island -- he just signed $40 million for the highways repairs last week, and there's more money coming up in the next days. So we're talking about a new relief package for the hurricanes,” she said.

“So this is not stopping there. It's going to continue to have more costs, and of course, more money getting through to the island,” Gonzalez-Colon added.

“What answer did you get to your question about the waiver? When you asked for the waiver for cost sharing for rebuilding, what kind of response did you get?” a reporter asked Gonzalez-Colon.

“They're still working on that issue because there's an issue of liquidity. The government is not going to have liquidity to pay in the next month. So I know there's some issues being discussed, in terms of what programs -- what specific programs -- are going to be waived,” she said.

“Actually, I spoke yesterday with the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, and we were defining what programs. The same thing with Agriculture -- there are so many programs and the White House is saying that there's an executive order from … George Bush, saying that Puerto Rico should be treated as a state in all federal programs, so if that executive order is still in place, we should waive that,” she added.

When asked if she had any assurances on when the supplemental request will come from the White House, or whether she’s received assurances that the island will receive loans from the Treasury Department, the congresswoman said, “On the first one, in the supplemental for relief, I spoke with the speaker of the House, and he's committed to have that during the last week of October, so there's going to be money there. How much? We don't know yet."

Gonzalez-Colon added, “But there's going to be -- not just for Puerto Rico -- it's going to be for all hurricanes.  So all states can receive money from FEMA from that fund.”

When asked what more the island needs and whether she conveyed the needs to the president during his visit, Gonzalez-Colon said, “The governor has been asking and requesting a lot of help in different ways, and the president has granted 100 percent of what the governor asks.

“When you're working in a desperate situation like we are -- and we still are in a dire situation -- and you see that the president, his Cabinet members are committed, and everything that has been requested has been granted -- I mean, that shows you commitment,” she said.

“And it's not just words - it's commitment. It's money. It's personnel. It's tanks. It's having a daily meeting with the Cabinet, communicating with the governor in terms of where we are, what we need, how can we improve logistics. The commodities are arriving to the island, but they're not getting to all the people in the island yet I mean, in the southern part of the island,” she added.

President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday that Puerto Rico needs more help at the local level to help distribute the commodities being provided by the federal government.

Meanwhile, before leaving the region Tuesday, President Donald Trump said on a local level Puerto Rico has to provide more help. When asked to explain those comments, the president said, “On a local level, we need the truck drivers. We need the police. We need more help on a local level, that’s true. We have tremendous amounts of supplies there. We need them distributed locally, and the best one to do that are local people.

“We need local help, and they’re helping,” the president told reporters during a gaggle on board Air Force One. “They’re really gearing up. They’re helping. Don’t forget, a lot of them lost their homes, and when you lose a home, it’s not easy to say, hey, I’m going to go and start delivering water -- or even be a policeman."



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