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Biden in Puerto Rico: ‘We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised’

<i>Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images</i><br/>President Joe Biden speaks at a meeting of the White House Competition Council at the White House on September 26 in Washington
Getty Images
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
President Joe Biden speaks at a meeting of the White House Competition Council at the White House on September 26 in Washington

By Maegan Vazquez and Allie Malloy, CNN

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell are visiting Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Monday — weeks after Hurricane Fiona ravaged the US territory.

In Puerto Rico, Biden received a briefing on the storm and met with individuals who have been impacted. He also announced $60 million in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law to shore up levees and flood walls, and to create a new flood warning system to help residents better prepare for future storms.

“We have to ensure that when the next hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico is ready,” Biden said during his remarks at the Port of Ponce.

Biden hailed the people of Puerto Rico for their resilience and promised that as long as he’s president, the federal government is not leaving until “every single thing we can do is done.”

Hurricane Fiona, Biden said, has been an “all too familiar nightmare” for Puerto Ricans who survived Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“Through these disasters so many people have been displaced from their homes, lost their jobs and savings or suffered injuries — often unseen but many times seen — but somehow, the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up with resilience and determination,” he remarked.

“You deserve every bit of help your country can give you. That’s what I’m determined to do and that’s what I promise you,” the President continued. “After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars to Puerto Rico, much of it not having gotten here initially. We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised.”

The Ponce region experienced significant storm damage and power had been restored for 86% of residents there as of Sunday evening.

Biden also participated in a pull-aside meeting with families and community leaders impacted by the storm.

Biden’s trip to Puerto Rico comes five years to the day that then-President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, where he was snapped tossing paper towels into a crowd gathered at a chapel where emergency supplies were being distributed. Trump repeatedly praised the federal response to the storm, but in the wake of a series of deadly hurricanes in 2017, FEMA issued a report saying it was underprepared and could have better anticipated the severity of the damage.

Throughout his travels on Monday, Biden expressed how his administration was aiming to do better than previous federal response efforts on the island.

On Monday morning, Biden suggested that the island has not been well taken care of following previous storms, telling reporters: “I’m heading to Puerto Rico because they haven’t been taken very good care of. We’ve been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can.”

During his speech at the Port of Ponce, the President also told Puerto Ricans, “You have had to bear so much and more than need be and you haven’t gotten the help in a timely way.”

And Criswell, who accompanied Biden on the trip, acknowledged the challenges the federal government has faced in gaining the trust of Puerto Ricans after the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017. She said aboard Air Force One en route to Puerto Rico that “there may have been some issues in the previous administration” and that the people of Puerto Rico “finally feel like this administration cares for them.”

Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico on September 21, a White House fact sheet said, and over 1,000 federal response workers were on the ground providing support with over 450 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard activated.

The Biden administration also approved a Jones Act waiver last week, opening up the potential for additional diesel to be shipped to Puerto Rico, following intense pressure on the White House. The Jones Act requires all goods ferried between US ports to be carried on ships built, owned and operated by Americans, but the Department of Homeland Security may grant a waiver when those vessels are not available to meet national defense requirements.

Biden has “been in regular contact” with Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, the White House has said.

The President will also travel to Florida this Wednesday, where he will survey damage from Hurricane Ian.

This story and headline have been updated with additional updates.

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