White House announces $11.6 billion aid for Puerto Rico

FILE PHOTO: The flags of the U.S. and Puerto Rico fly outside the Capitol building in San Juan, Puerto Rico May 4, 2017. REUTERS/ Alvin Baez/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The federal government will award an $11.6 billion aid package to Puerto Rico, focused on the territory’s energy and education systems, to help the island recover from the devastation brought by 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the White House said on Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will provide $9.6 billion in funding for the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority to make replacements, repairs and improvements to equipment and buildings, the White House said.

An additional $2 billion grant for Puerto Rico’s Education Department will “focus on restoring school buildings and educational facilities across the island,” the White House said.

Puerto Rico was already struggling financially before the deadly hurricane struck three years ago, and filed a form of municipal bankruptcy for the commonwealth in 2017 to restructure about $120 billion of debt and obligations.

Since then, the U.S. commonwealth has been hit by more hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval, and has been the target of increased federal scrutiny into its use of U.S. aid. A large portion of its financial distress was linked to the territory’s power utility.

Meanwhile, Republican President Donald Trump is working to woo Hispanic voters in the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, where he is in a tight race against Democrat Joe Biden.

Biden said Trump “has done nothing but assault the dignity of Hispanic families” in a speech on Tuesday in Kissimmee, Florida, where many people settled after fleeing Maria’s devastation.

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