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Politics & Government

Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló On Disaster Funding

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Congress is deadlocked on how to get Puerto Rico the money it needs to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Two different bills failed in the Senate. Meanwhile, President Trump took aim this week at Puerto Rico in a series of tweets. In one, the president said he is the best thing that ever happened to the territory. The governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us, Governor.

RICARDO ROSSELLO: Thank you, Rachel. Great to be with you.

MARTIN: And we should just mention you're on kind of a rough phone line. But we appreciate you being with us. In those tweets, President Trump claimed that Puerto Rico got $91 billion for hurricane relief, quote, "more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before." Is that true?

ROSSELLO: No. It's not true. It's inaccurate. And, you know, it's unfortunate. Listen, Rachel, what we want is for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to have an opportunity to rebuild and rebuild effectively. But we need to be talking in terms of the correct data and the correct evidence...

MARTIN: What is the correct data? I'm sorry to interrupt you. What is the correct data? How much money has Puerto Rico received to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane?

ROSSELLO: The estimate, aggregating everything, is about $11 billion. And most of it has been on the emergency work. So only about $300 million has been obligated for permanent work, you know, developments. So to give you context, by this time after Katrina passed Louisiana and after Harvey passed Texas, for every project that we have in Puerto Rico, Texas had 28 permanent work projects and Louisiana had 32. So there's a significant difference there.

MARTIN: So where has - where has that $11 billion, which is far less than the $91 billion President Trump claims that has been delivered in aid, where has the money gone thus far?

ROSSELLO: Yeah. So far, most of it has gone to the energy pick up. Remember that our whole energy grid was dropped down. It hasn't gone to the permanent work for the energy grid. So right now we have a very weak energy system in Puerto Rico, which we have to transform. Also some of that money has come in the form of NAP nutritional assistance program, which we had about $1.2 billion allocated to Puerto Rico. Mind you, that additional fund just got us up to par with the rest of the United States received for their nutritional assistance programs. Also some of those funds have gone to emergency work, right, immediately after the storm, getting blue roofs and so forth.

MARTIN: Right. I want to get you to respond to a couple other things the president said. He suggested that the Puerto Rican government has wasted the money or, worse, that there's been some kind of corruption. Are those legitimate concerns?

ROSSELLO: No. No. They're not. You know, it's unfortunate, again, to be having this sort of debate with the president when he's lacking all of the facts. First of all, we've decided to build the most transparent, most effective reconstruction office in the history of recovery. We've agreed upon unprecedented levels of oversight in this office. And we want to make sure that every taxpayer and everybody in the world knows how every dollar is being used. That is why we have the first transparency portal, as well, so that people can see how their money is being used. Unfortunately, not a lot of that money has come in to Puerto Rico for permanent work and for permanent recovery. So it is inaccurate.

Unfortunately, the president has been basing his claims on actions from past administrations, even decades ago, which is, you know, a little disconcerting. It's as if I were to start blaming the president for things that the Clinton administration or the Bush administration did.

MARTIN: Right.

ROSSELLO: So...

MARTIN: Let me...

ROSSELLO: Go ahead.

MARTIN: Let me just ask briefly then. The president says he's the best thing to ever happen to Puerto Rico. It's clearly hyperbolic. But it's worth asking if you see President Trump as an ally or an adversary.

ROSSELLO: Well, you know, I don't like to get into that because my job as governor is to get results. I obviously, as a governor, I would want our president to be an ally. Now, these sort of irrational and - comments that lack empathy are a very big concern.

MARTIN: We're going to have to leave it there, Governor. Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.