U.S. House committee examining barriers to Puerto Rico recovery: official


(Reuters) – The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources said it will work to identify red tape and other bureaucratic hurdles to speed up Puerto Rico’s recovery and rebuilding, as the island struggles to recover from the impact of Hurricane Maria.

Committee Chairman Rob Bishop said in a press call on Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal partners will also likely be engaged for years in helping Puerto Rico get back on its feet.

Bishop added that an emergency response will be executed through FEMA and local officials.

“An emergency funding package is taking place as we speak to support those efforts,” he said.

On Tuesday a White House official told Reuters the White House was preparing a $29 billion disaster aid request to be sent to Congress after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.

The request was expected to come on Wednesday. It will combine nearly $13 billion in new relief for hurricane victims with $16 billion for the government-backed flood insurance program.

Bishop said under evaluation was also the question of whether to modify or give additional power to the oversight board tasked with overseeing Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were battered by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Hurricane Maria knocked out power to Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents last month, devastating the island’s already dilapidated electric power infrastructure.

Puerto Rico, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year, is struggling with a $72 billion debt load. U.S. President Donald Trump suggested late on Tuesday that the island’s debt will have to be wiped out because of devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney backed away from those comments early on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a member forum to discuss the emergency response to hurricane damage in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly, Megan Davies and Richard Cowan; writing by Stephanie Kelly; editing by Jonathan Oatis