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Democratic senators present US$146B bill for Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands

Friday, December 01, 2017

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Democratic senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill Tuesday earmarking US$146 billion for the reconstruction of the hurricane-hit US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Sanders told journalists at the Senate that the situation in the US Caribbean territories was “not acceptable” two months after the islands were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“More than two months after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, half of the people there — American citizens all — still have no electricity,” Sanders said.

“Many are struggling to get clean drinking water, and more than 100,000 people have left Puerto Rico. This is not acceptable,” said Sanders, who campaigned unsuccessfully against Hillary Clinton to become his party's candidate in the 2016 presidential elections.

The 169-page bill does not propose simply repairing damage caused by the hurricanes, but sets out a total reconstruction of the islands' infrastructure, already in poor shape even before the double pounding of the storms.

It would include rebuilding the islands' power and water grids, as well as fixing health services and preparing shelters for future natural disasters, without forcing the territories to foot the bill.

“We cannot simply rebuild Puerto Rico the way it was,” said Sanders. “We must go forward to create a strong, sustainable economy and energy system in Puerto Rico.”

The bill faces a difficult passage through Congress, where both houses are controlled by a Republican party opposed to any substantial reconstruction programme for the territories.

Ricardo Rossellˇ, the governor of Puerto Rico, asked Congress at the beginning of November for a US$94-billion package to bail out the island, while the administration of Donald Trump has drawn up a bill earmarking US$29 billion for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, which were all hit during the last hurricane season. Only a fraction of that money would go to Puerto Rico.

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