Puerto Rico leader to seek more relief funds in D.C. trip Thursday

A man participates in a protest Wednesday calling on Congress and the White House for a recovery plan for Puerto Rico. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

By Danielle Haynes – UPI

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he plans to push Congress for relief for his debt-ridden, hurricane-ravaged island Thursday, during his first trip to Washington, D.C., since Hurricane Maria.

The Puerto Rican leader arrives in Washington one month after the Category 4 storm hit the island, with plenty on his plate.

Rosselló said he plans to encourage Congress to pass a nearly $5 billion funding package, a loan President Donald Trump requested for the financially burdened government. The Senate also is considering a $36.5 billion general disaster relief package, passed by the House last week, that includes relief aid for Puerto Rico.

“Time is of the essence and we need quick action,” Rosselló said in an NBC News report Wednesday.

The governor said he hopes to persuade federal lawmakers that the island, a U.S. territory, has the ability to manage recovery and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Maria.

“If we are not considered in equal terms to Florida, the Virgin Islands, Texas and so forth, Congress will have to deal with a worsened humanitarian crisis, massive exodus from the island, healthcare problems and more,” he said.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders confirmed the trip during a briefing with reporters Wednesday, saying Rosselló also will visit “the White House to talk about the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts.” Rosselló said he will also meet with Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert.

As of Wednesday, about 80 percent of Puerto Ricans — roughly 3 million — were still without power and one-third of homes don’t have reliable drinking water.

On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said 1,700 personnel were in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in addition to 20,000 other federal workers.

In Washington Wednesday, demonstrators marched from Capitol Hill to FEMA headquarters to demand a bigger response from the government on hurricane relief for Puerto Rico — as well as other U.S. locations hit by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, “we have not forgotten you.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a protest calling on Congress and the White House for a recovery package for hurricane victims Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

“You are our brothers and sisters. You are our fellow U.S. citizens. And you are part of our hearts.”

Some demonstrators at the rally criticized Trump, saying his reaction to Puerto Rico’s plight wasn’t on par with how he handled other recent disasters.

“With Puerto Rico, he didn’t even try,” Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, told The Washington Post. “He’s shown a real disrespect for the people of Puerto Rico. It’s like he is kicking us while we are down.”

The president, who’s visited the island, has voiced consistent support for the territory since the disaster — but he’s also taken some criticism for remarking about Puerto Rico’s economic situation.

“The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H’s. I will always be with them!” Trump said in a tweet last week.

Rosselló and Trump have praised the federal government’s response in Puerto Rico. On Monday, former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who ran the organization under President Bill Clinton, said he would give the Trump administration an A-plus for its response.

“They’ve maxed out probably how many people they could put there,” he said. “I know they’re all working frantically, but sometimes that’s not enough.”