Comments come after Trump chides island territory over debt, poor infrastructure
Puerto Rico will receive the same level of federal support as storm-wracked U.S. states, the Speaker of the House said Tuesday, seeking to reassure the American territory as it copes with mass devastation.
"This is a humanitarian crisis," Paul Ryan told reporters. "This is our country and these are our fellow citizens. They need our help and they are going to get our help."
He said an aid bill lawmakers passed earlier this month to fund FEMA operations shortly after hurricanes Harvey and Irma inflicted mass damage on Texas and Florida equally applies to Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Caribbean territory was wracked by Hurricane Maria last Wednesday, leaving all of its 3.5 million residents without power and sending tens of thousands into shelters as flood waters submerged entire neighborhoods.
Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in 90 years, and as it faces a lengthy road to recovery President Donald Trump took to social media late Monday, appearing to place blame on the territory for at least some of the problems it now faces.
"Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble," he wrote on Twitter. "Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with."
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he would visit the U.S. territory next Tuesday, and may also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"We're working very, very hard on Puerto Rico," he said. "We have shipped massive amounts of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico, and we are continuing to do it on an hourly basis."
Shortly after his comments, Trump approved additional funds to assist in the commonwealth's recovery efforts, particularly debris removal and emergency protective measures. Those efforts will now be met with full cost-sharing from the federal government for the next 180 days.
“Puerto Rico needs a lot of money," he said. "They are hardy people and they’ll be back. But we’re helping them.”