Trump, Puerto Rico governor to discuss hurricane aid at White House

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 18, 2017 4:31 PM

By Roberta Rampton and Nick Brown

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello are due to meet at the White House on Thursday to discuss rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated the island a month ago, the White House said.

The Trump administration and Congress are considering further assistance for the bankrupt U.S. territory as it seeks to recover from its worst natural disaster in 90 years.

The catastrophic storm struck on Sept. 20, causing widespread flooding and damaging homes, roads and other infrastructure.

Less than 20 percent of the 3.4 million Americans who live on the island have electricity, after the power grid was wrecked, and 35 percent still lack drinking water.

Disaster costs are expected to run into the tens of billions of dollars. The U.S. Congress is currently working on boosting funding for emergency relief as well as a $4.9 billion loan to help Rossello's cash-strapped government, which is poised to run out of money for payroll and essential services at the end of the month.

"The meeting is related to the current recovery and response in Puerto Rico, and the long-term recovery process and what it’s going to take to recover in all aspects," said Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for the territory's government.

"We need to think about rebuilding Puerto Rico in a holistic way. All the crops are all dead, agriculture is dead, housing is destroyed," he said, noting more than 50,000 homes were destroyed and more than 660,000 individuals have so far filed claims with the federal government.

Rossello asked Trump on Oct. 2 to expand the disaster declaration that provides for federal emergency services to allow federal funds to be spent on fixing damaged schools, buildings, and power plants.

The governor has also asked the White House and Congress for at least $4.6 billion in block grants and other types of funding. The White House budget office asked departments and agencies to provide estimates of funding needs by Oct. 24.

Trump visited the Caribbean island earlier this month to view the damage and meet with Rossello. But he and White House aides have suggested there would be a limit to how much help Puerto Rico could expect from Washington to solve its long-term issues.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Tom Brown)