Biden administration to prioritize Puerto Rico’s recovery, not political status

A newly revived White House Puerto Rico task force will focus on advancing rebuilding in the U.S. territory after Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, last year’s earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic instead of joining the congressional debate over Puerto Rico’s political status, a response to decades of tension around the fate of the island’s relationship to the mainland.

“We don’t have jurisdiction on status, but we do have jurisdiction on the billions of dollars that have gone to the island. And there’s a real concern that these dollars might not be spent in a way that would make a real difference,” Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, the White House’s associate director for Puerto Rico and the territories, said Wednesday.

The federal government has allocated over $65 billion in recovery funds to Puerto Rico, but communities on the island have received only close to $21 billion, according to the Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency.

Most of the funds have been allocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development.

“This is such a historic opportunity to do it right at all levels and to use these resources,” Sierra-Zorita said. “You don’t want to have a situation where you’re spending money and then, 20 or 30 years down the line, you say: ‘What did we do? What did we spend that money on?’

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