In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump brought up the fiscal crisis that has been looming over Puerto Rico from long before hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island commonwealth. He quoted television journalist Sharyl Attkisson as saying that the “financial crisis looms largely of their own making,” while adding that he perceives a “total lack of accountability” on the island. Noting that the electrical grid and other infrastructure were a “disaster before hurricanes,” the president said that Congress must decide how much to spend. But what got the most comment was his acknowledgement that “FEMA, the military, and the first responders” cannot stay “in Puerto Rico forever!”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded by saying, "The president's tweet this morning... is heartbreaking." Pelosi added, “...it lacks knowledge, knowledge about what the role is of FEMA and the others in time of a natural disaster, what our responsibility is as the federal government to the people of our country, and I remind that the people of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are American citizens." "We owe them what they need. It's not about a clock. It's about what they need," Pelosi said.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration asked Congress to allocate $5 billion to ease the fiscal crisis faced by Puerto Rico’s government. Since Hurricane Maria struck, the island’s municipalities and central government are facing cash shortfalls because of severed revenues and strained resources. The informal request from the Trump administration would send $4.9 billion for Puerto Rico and its local jurisdictions. Another $150 million has been requested by the White House to provide the 10 percent match from Puerto Rico that is required for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief.
On October 7, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello asked Congress for $500 million for the community disaster loan program, which is designed to help local governments cope with tax revenue shortfalls caused by disasters. He requested almost $4 billion in other aid. "In addition to the immediate humanitarian crisis, Puerto Rico is on the brink of a massive liquidity crisis that will intensify in the immediate future," Rossello wrote.
On the same day, the House Appropriations Committee unleashed a $36.5 billion emergency spending bill that merged the Trump administration’s request on Tuesday with the White House proposal of last week for disaster funds. Puerto Rico was already suffering from a lengthy recession and fiscal mismanagement. A financial control board is overseeing its debt problems and austerity plans.
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.