U.S. senators who visited Puerto Rico Saturday had differing reactions to the requests and the territory’s needs. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for “a plan, a type of ‘Marshall Plan, no matter what it takes.”
Fellow Democrat Richard Blumenthal (CT) contended that, “We need a financial plan immediately.” He suggested that it be developed among the territory’s federally-imposed fiscal control board, the governor, and the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Treasury, Medicaid, and tax matters.
His understanding was that the islands would experience a “financial storm” at the end of this year.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has lead jurisdiction over natural disaster matters, was more equivocal. “We want accountability about where that money is going to go,” he said.
Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has lead jurisdiction over territory issues, said that he wants “to work with the Senate to present something that meets the short-and long-term needs.” Gardner also chairs the Subcommittee on Energy.
They all agreed that the islands recovery should begin with a restoration of the territory’s electricity distribution system. Under President Trump’s disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay three quarters of the cost – a share that the Governor has asked be increased to 100%. The President has the authority to reduce or eliminate the local match except to the extent that the rebuilding would enable it to better withstand natural disasters, which requires approval by law.
The Rossello Administration has rejected an offer by creditors holding 65% of the Electric Power Authority’s debt to loan PREPA the local cost-share and the Financial Oversight and Management Board has been cool to it. The territorial authorities have also not pursued other private sector funding possibilities.