By ALEX DAUGHERTY
McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON â€” Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello unveiled a $94.3 billion disaster relief request to Congress on Monday, a massive sum he said will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.
Rossello also promised the islandâ€™s recovery effort will be the â€śmost transparentâ€ť in U.S. history as the governor faces criticism over awarding a now-canceled $300 million contract to a small Montana-based power company to rebuild the nationâ€™s electric grid. Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power 54 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall.
The largest chunk of Rosselloâ€™s request, $31 billion, would go to housing assistance, with another $17.7 billion to rebuild the islandâ€™s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.
â€śThis is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, where weâ€™re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,â€ť Rossello said.
The $94 billion request will likely be pared down by Congress and the Trump administration, as fiscally conservative Republicans will likely oppose such a massive long-term aid package, as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The package is more than $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief requested by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.
â€śIâ€™m making a commitment that this will be the most transparent recovery effort in the history of the United States,â€ť Rossello said. â€śWhat weâ€™re asking for is equal treatment. A natural disaster does not look at politics, at race or location, it just devastates.â€ť
Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, Puerto Ricoâ€™s non-voting member of Congress, was also present at Mondayâ€™s press conference. She expects Congress to devise two more hurricane relief packages before the end of the year, one by Thanksgiving and the other by Christmas.
â€śAs it happened with (Hurricane) Katrina, they received several supplementals (disaster funding packages) over a 10-year period,â€ť Gonzalez said. â€śWe hope not to go to a 10-year period; we want to rebuild the island quickly and faster.â€ť
The biggest federal entity that Puerto Rico is requesting funding from, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant Program, was once on the Trump administrationâ€™s chopping block. Puerto Rico is requesting $46 billion from the agency.
Gonzalez also said additional disaster funds could come from amendments to legislation before the end of the year.
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