Puerto Rico Estimates It Will Cost $139 Billion To Fully Recover From Hurricane Maria
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
One hundred thirty-nine billion dollars - that is what Puerto Rico's government says it will cost for the island to make a full recovery from the devastation caused last year by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. That massive dollar figure comes from a report from the island's governor just submitted to Congress. And here to talk about all of this is NPR's Adrian Florido, who joins us from San Juan. Hi, Adrian.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So $139 billion - that is a ton of money.
FLORIDO: It is a huge amount. And just to put it into perspective for you, consider this, Ailsa. Puerto Rico's general budget for next year is less than $9 billion.
FLORIDO: So this amount is more than 15 times the annual general budget for the entire island.
CHANG: Yeah. What does the government plan to spend all that money on?
FLORIDO: Well, I mean, first of all, the damage that Hurricane Maria caused was enormous. Remember; it flattened the energy grid. It destroyed roads and bridges and other infrastructure. It tore off the roofs of tens of thousands of homes. And in fact, the government says that the most expensive part of the recovery is going to be housing. There were more than 160,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed. And to repair and rebuild those and build new housing, the government says it needs $33 billion. It also mentions another $30 billion it needs for the island's water systems; $26 billion to fix and improve the energy grid; $15 billion for schools, and the list goes on.
CHANG: Where does Puerto Rico's government propose these funds will come from?
FLORIDO: So Puerto Rico's government actually says that about half the money is already available. And that's from a combination of congressional allocations that Congress has already made, grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and payments from private insurance companies. But where the remaining $70 billion is going to come from is unclear. Of course Puerto Rico would like Congress to chip in many billions more.
FLORIDO: But how much Congress will actually provide, if any, is still an open question. And the governor also recognizes in this report that he submitted to Congress that the island will have to probably look for private funding, too.
CHANG: Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that Puerto Rico doesn't have final say over its finances. The court said instead that authority belongs to an oversight board that Congress created two years ago to help the island get out of debt. What does this oversight board say about the governor's plan?
FLORIDO: So it hasn't said anything yet, but it will have to approve this plan to make sure that this report is in line with its own priorities for how money in Puerto Rico should be spent. In fact earlier today, I was at a press briefing given by the executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board. Her name is Natalie Jaresko. And a reporter asked whether she'd actually seen the governor's recovery plan.
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NATALIE JARESKO: We received it, and we have just started that review.
FLORIDO: And then the reporter asked, well, how's it looking?
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JARESKO: Five hundred very solid pages.
FLORIDO: Five hundred pages, Ailsa.
FLORIDO: It's a huge, massive report reflecting I think the magnitude of the recovery ahead.
CHANG: I mean, the process sounds daunting. There was another thing in this report. Puerto Rico's government acknowledged that the death count from Hurricane Maria was likely much larger than its official estimate, which was just at 64 deaths. What did this report say exactly?
FLORIDO: Yeah, well, after a lot of public pressure, you may remember, the governor hired a team from the George Washington University to answer that question of how many people died as a result of the storm. And that report is due out at the end of this month. But in this report submitted to Congress today, the government says that what it does know is that in the four months after the storm, there were more than 1,400 additional deaths compared to the same time period in previous years. And it also acknowledged that many of those may be storm-related, though it still can't say for sure. But it is the first time that it's acknowledged that many of those probably were due to the storm.
CHANG: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thanks, Adrian.
FLORIDO: Thank you, Ailsa.
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