President Joe Biden visited Puerto Rico on October 3 and pledged more than $60 million in funding to help the territory become better prepared for future coastal storms. With shipping crates behind him, President Biden addressed a crowd in Port of Ponce in Ponce, Puerto Rico saying that he is “committed to this island.”
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden landed in Puerto Rico around two weeks after Biden issued an emergency declaration for the territory with Fiona making landfall in the territory the next day on September 18. In his speech, Biden mentioned aid being provided for Puerto Rico’s residents in the form of individual financial assistance, immediate repair for the territory, and future infrastructure improvements.
Biden also mentioned that Congress’s billion-dollar approval for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria has been slow to reach the territory. Biden assured that “we’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised” and that he is “determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger and better prepared for the future.”
Biden stood at the podium in a facility that houses much-needed generators for Puerto Rico’s residents and businesses. The generators, with fuel trucks, are sent out to the rest of the territory to provide temporary power. Much of the recent diesel fuel needed for the generators was made available to Puerto Rico after a British Petroleum ship was able to dock following the Biden Administration’s Jones Act waiver.
He continued addressing the crowd while mentioning that the residents of Ponce have been some of the hardest hit by hurricane Fiona. He cited his major disaster declaration issued shortly after the emergency declaration stating that, as a result, the federal government will cover 100% of the cost to clear “debris and carry out search and rescue and continue to shelter people.” Biden clarified that this federal assistance extends to individual financial assistance as well.
According to Biden, the federal government will provide assistance of up to $37,900 for “essential home repairs” and the same amount of money for “lost property, as the law calls for, like a car or a refrigerator.” He added that residents can register at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for cash assistance of up to $700 “to help cover the essentials” and can also access crisis counselors through the agency.
Along with immediate aid, Biden emphasized plans for infrastructure improvements to protect the island from future hurricane damage. “We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island and hit the United States overall. And as we rebuild, we have to ensure that we build it to last,” Biden said. He said that Puerto Rico has received $4 million in the past year to make the power grid “more resilient” and added that the number is “going to go up.” Biden also said that “roads, bridges, public transit, ports, airports, water safety, and high-speed Internet” in Puerto Rico will see investments from the US government.
Biden claims that power has been restored to 92 percent of the island. As of October 17, Poweroutage.us reported that 11,752 customers were still without power out of 1,468,223 customers tracked—which makes the number much lower in referring to Puerto Rico’s power customers. At the start of his speech, he relayed to the audience that he “was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically” following his assertion that Delaware has a large Puerto Rican population relative to “our population.” The statement was met with scrutiny but purportedly has merit while it is known that Delaware has historically had a large Puerto Rican population.
Biden finished his speech by saying, “we are not leaving here, as long as I’m president, until everything—I mean this sincerely—until every single thing we can do is done.”