Senator Marco Rubio said on Thursday he has urged U.S. President Donald Trump to create a high-level task force to provide ideas and advice for helping Puerto Rico to rebuild after Hurricane Maria, and that the president was receptive to the idea.
The Republican-controlled House voted 353-69 to approve $36.5 billion in emergency relief for Puerto Rico and other areas hit by recent disasters. The Senate is expected to take up the bill early next week.
Trump's comments on Twitter on Thursday morning were followed by White House reassurances that the administration was "committed" to disaster relief in Puerto Rico.
Short also argued it was wrong for the government to take this moment to expand hurricane relief into larger assistance for Puerto Rico. The death toll in Florida after Hurricane Irma, which made landfall on September 10, also reached 75, the Miami Herald reported, not counting the more than 38 people who died in the Caribbean.
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While he noted it was up to "Congress to decide how much to spend", he said: "We can not keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been awesome (under the most hard circumstances) in P.R. forever!"
The bill includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund.
The president's tweets set off a flurry of chatter online, given that the USA territory is barely entering its third week with the majority of the population still without power and one-third without water. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the government needs to ensure that Puerto Rico can "begin to stand on its own two feet" and said the United States has "got to do more to help Puerto Rico rebuild its own economy".
Republican and Democratic lawmakers, however, said more money would likely be needed later.
"There is some concern about can we couple some of this (disaster aid) with reform measures", Cole told Reuters on Wednesday.
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Democratic Representative Nydia Velázquez of NY, which has a large Puerto Rican community, said the relief package was "just the start" of federal aid to the island, where large areas remain without electricity or running water three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall.
"They're basically three weeks now living in the 19th century", Rubio said.
But Trump's top legislative aide warned against expecting Washington's help for long-term infrastructure problems.
The governor's office did not respond to queries about the total amount of aid requested, which is now equivalent to around half of Puerto Rico's debt of some US$73 billion. Some $16 billion would go toward the National Flood Insurance Program to help it cover claims after reaching its borrowing limit. "There will be a period in which we hope sooner rather than later, the U.S. military and FEMA, generally speaking can withdraw because then the government and people of Puerto Rico are recovering sufficiently to start the process of rebuilding".
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