President Biden visited Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, becoming the 11th U.S. president to visit the U.S. territory. He reviewed damage, listened to survivors, and announced $60 million in disaster relief funding. He spoke in Ponce, saying, “Puerto Rico is a strong place, and Puerto Ricans are strong people, but even so, you have had to bear so much, and more than need be. And you haven’t gotten the help in a timely way.”
Biden was referring to the limited disaster relief funding following Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the earthquakes which shook Puerto Rico in 2019 and 2020. While Congress allocated about $67.673 billion, just $24.473 billion has actually reached the Island.
Support for Puerto Rico statehood
A billboard welcoming President Biden says “Thanks! President Joe Biden for helping Puerto Rico and your support to become the 51st state.” Biden reiterated his commitment to Puerto Rico repeatedly during his visit, and has a history of supporting equal treatment for the territory.
The administration published “The Biden-Harris Plan For Recovery, Renewal and Respect for Puerto Rico” at the beginning of their term in office. The promises in that plan included “Supporting a full recovery and infrastructure reconstruction to modern standards.”
“When PROMESA was passed, no one envisioned two devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, and a once-in-a-century pandemic,” the plan continues. “In light of current conditions, the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) needs a meaningful shift in approach.”
The plan doesn’t address Puerto Rico’s political status. However, Biden said in 2020, “I happen to believe that statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with the same representation at the federal level.”
Earlier this year, Biden said, “If I lived in Puerto Rico, I would vote for statehood.” He has spoken in favor of statehood on other occasions, including advice in 2012 to “fight hard” for statehood.
Congress, rather than the president, has the power to admit Puerto Rico as a state.
The problems faced by Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona’s destruction are connected with the Island’s political status in ways that make sense of the mixture of thanks for disaster relief and for support of statehood.
Politico quoted Karina Claudio Betancourt, director of the Open Society Foundation’s Puerto Rico project, as saying, “Until we can find a way to resolve our relationship with the U.S. … we won’t be able to thrive as a people,”