Recovery aid has been very slow to come to Puerto Rico. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Puerto Rican officials have disagreed on reconstruction costs, with FEMA accusing Puerto Rico of inflating estimates and Puerto Rico countering that FEMA was lowballing them. In one example, it took a year and a half to secure funding to rebuild the only hospital in the island municipality of Vieques.
Last year, Puerto Rico released a 10-year, $20 billion plan to bolster its fragile electrical grid, which has experienced recurrent outages since Hurricane Maria, a near-Category 5 storm, wrecked the island in September 2017. At least 2,975 people died. It took nearly a year to fully restore power and this year was battered by a flurry of earthquakes in the southwest of the island.
In June, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the bankrupt government-owned utility known as PREPA, which is some $9 billion in debt, had to sign a deal outsourcing the delivery of electricity to a consortium of 15 private operators for 15 years.
In Puerto Rico, Gov. Wanda Vázquez held a news briefing to underscore the unprecedented level of federal aid, which she said reflects confidence in her administration.
“I feel immense satisfaction,” she said. “To have achieved this historic grant for Puerto Rico makes me feel happy and fulfilled. I feel that the legacy that we leave the Puerto Rican people and future administrations will be the reconstruction of the country, beginning with the electrical grid and the education department.”
Ms. Vázquez, a Republican who assumed the governorship last year after the resignation of Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló, hoped to run for the office in November. But last month, she lost the primary for the New Progressive Party, which supports statehood for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico, which effectively declared bankruptcy in 2016, has been mired in a 14-year recession. Public schools there have suffered mightily since even before the hurricane. Puerto Ricans have fled the island in search of jobs, and thousands of students have left the school system, forcing the shuttering of hundreds of schools.