Joe Biden announced on Monday that his administration will allocate $60m in funding for Puerto Rico specifically to help coastal areas become more storm-resilient, as he admitted, following the hit from Hurricane Fiona last month, that the island territory had faced much in the last five years and had not received enough timely assistance.
The US president said the new funding would go toward strengthening flood walls, creating a new flood warning system and other projects.
“We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island, and hit the United States overall, and as we rebuild we have to ensure that we rebuild it to last, but particularly focused on the power grid,” Biden, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, said on a visit to Ponce, Puerto Rico, a town severely damaged by the storm.
He did not take any questions from the press after his speech, but admitted shortcomings in past aid to Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Fiona battered the US territory in mid-September. Two weeks after the storm, roughly 8% of customers remained without power, while 33,192 still didn’t have water service.
Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.3 million, was still recovering from the category 5 Hurricane Maria five years ago, as well as a series of earthquakes in 2020 that struck in addition to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden has approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, which granted access to emergency individual funds and public assistance for residents affected by the hurricane.
Puerto Ricans were outraged amid the exclusion of coastal towns severely damaged by the hurricane from the right to receive an individual payment of $700 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. All 78 municipalities were later added.
“Seven hundred dollars won’t replace what you’ve lost, not even close, but it can help take care of some of the little basics while you catch your breath and get back on your feet,” Biden said on Monday.
Biden also announced the “Puerto Rican grid recovery modernization team”, which will be led by US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm.
He said the team will help “repair the grid quickly and drive decisive progress on the gameplan for Puerto Rico’s clean energy transformation”.
The governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, said that the Biden administration has been working “closely” with the island’s government. He also demanded that Puerto Ricans be treated in the same way as other US citizens.
Maritzaida Pacheco, a representative for the Puerto Rico-based non-profit organization Centros Sor Isolina Ferré, said of pre-Fiona disasters: “We haven’t been able to fully recover.”
Biden also recalled that after Hurricane Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars for Puerto Rico and said: “Much of it not having gotten here initially. We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised.”