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Puerto Rican Reps. continue to advocate for justice after years of neglect. Photo: Adam Hunger/AP, U.S. House
Puerto Rican Reps. continue to advocate for justice after years of neglect. Photo: Adam Hunger/AP, U.S. House

Biden promises to deliver aid for Puerto Rico’s recovery he vowed over the campaign trail

The timeline, however, is quite vague.

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The Biden administration says it plans to release $1.3 billion in previously held aid for Puerto Rico to help the U.S. territory rebuild after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Biden’s team has also said it will move forward with removing Trump-era restrictions on an additional $4.9 billion.

“It took the election of @JoeBiden for Puerto Rico to finally get the billions of dollars that it should have gotten more than three years ago. The natural disaster of Maria was compounded by the man-made disaster of Trump,” wrote Rep. Ritchie Torres in response to the  announcement on Feb. 2.

Torres is one of many lawmakers and advocates who have pushed Biden to release the remaining funds to aid in the recovery effort.

In January, he and fellow Puerto Rican Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09) addressed President Joe Biden in a letter calling on him to expedite his promise for a rapid disbursement of funds pledged to Puerto Rico to mitigate long-standing damages caused by Hurricane Maria and subsequent neglect.

“After years of blocked access to federal funds, #PuertoRico is going to get the resources it needs to recover from natural disasters & the pandemic. Proud to partner w. @RepDarrenSoto in pushing for expedited disaster relief,” Torres wrote in a later tweet.

The Biden-Harris has been promising this since September, but the administration didn’t act on the promise with an executive order on day one as he did with other measures — and he has yet to formally announce or sign anything into order. 

Even when he does, he will have more to answer for.

Torres and Soto are also part of a bipartisan effort with Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez and more to expand Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federally funded program “to expand SSI to the Americans in #PuertoRico living below poverty level with health conditions,” Gonzales wrote.

What now?

While administration officials say the announcement is a first step to address the years-long neglect of Puerto Rico, they have yet to outline comprehensive steps, and rather the same list of actions — then promising, now quite vague — announced in September.

They include improving infrastructure, investing in economic development initiatives, providing debt relief, and expanding access to education and Puerto Rico’s workforce.

The promised funds are part of $20 billion that Congress provided HUD for the island’s recovery and protection against future hurricanes. 

Only 0.7% of the funds have been spent, which the New York Times noted is “a far lower rate than for funding that Congress provided HUD to help Texas, Florida and other parts of the United States to rebuild after similar disasters.

As for a timeline, the best news is it’s “in process.”

"The president has made clear… that it is a priority for his administration to release this funding. We are working to do so. So that is in process," White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki said at the start of a press briefing on Feb. 1.

As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the aftermath of María, it has also dealt with thousands of earthquakes at the start of 2020 followed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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