• 10:56
  • 04.06.2020
Trump boosts Puerto Rico disaster aid

Trump boosts Puerto Rico disaster aid

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US President Donald Trump has agreed to expand the use of disaster aid to help rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid and other infrastructure wrecked by Hurricane Maria, the White House says.
In a unique agreement recognising both the massive devastation on the island and its dire financial problems, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for infrastructure projects will be released in a faster, more flexible way than is typical after disasters, a senior White House official told Reuters on Thursday.
Under the plan, agreed to with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, third-party advisers will estimate how much money is needed for big-ticket projects. They will also determine how it is spent - a provision aimed at protecting taxpayer dollars in what is expected to be a massive, long-term effort to rebuild the island.
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"We're doing it in a way that grants flexibility, but also imposes a mutually agreed upon set of controls," the official said in an interview.
The new agreement will see FEMA cover 90 per cent of the costs for rebuilding public infrastructure, up from the typical level of 75 per cent.
Puerto Rico - home to 3.4 million Americans - is in bankruptcy, struggling with $US72 billion ($A101 billion) in debt. Its finances were put under federal control last year.
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Six weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, only about 30 per cent of Puerto Rico's power grid has been restored. Private sector estimates of total damage from Maria have ranged as high as $US95 billion.
The White House is expected to deliver a new request for disaster aid to the US Congress in mid-November to help defray costs from Maria and two other major hurricanes - Harvey and Irma - as well as damage caused by wildfires in the western United States.
It is not yet clear how big the federal tab for Puerto Rico will be.
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"Obviously it's going to be a big dollar figure," the official said.
"I know there won't be any baulking at the amount of money needed from the administration."

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