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Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón Discusses Trump's Puerto Rico Aid Package


President Trump says he wants $13 billion to repair Puerto Rico's power grid and other infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Of course, that storm killed thousands of people on the island and left hundreds of thousands without power, water and shelter. We are joined now by Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, known as the resident commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who is a Republican. And, Representative, thanks so much for being with us.

JENNIFFER GONZALEZ-COLON: Thank you for the opportunity.

SIMON: I have to ask you, Hurricane Maria, as you well know, hit in 2017. What took the administration so long?

GONZALEZ-COLON: I think that was the worst year in - that the island experienced. It was a complete blackout, the whole island without power for almost a year, and then no telecoms, no water because the pumps were not functioning.

The first allocation package was 2017. Immediately, there was the first allocation. Then, in 2018, the Bipartisan Budget Act included more Community Development Block Grants disaster relief for Puerto Rico.

It took almost a year and a half for the government of Puerto Rico to visit and inspect the thousand schools on the island that were devastated by the hurricane. And then this same situation with all the power plants on the island, the distribution lines, the transmission lines that were affected directly.

SIMON: I have to ask, though, Representative, you know, we're just a few weeks before an election day. The president had been opposed, quite outspoken about providing additional aid to Puerto Rico, even said they had too much money already; more might be misspent.

GONZALEZ-COLON: The process is not finished yet. So that's the reason for this one. It took so long, but this will help.

And the reason I'm happy today is because this announcement of this money is much needed, but this is coming also because we're trying to bring back pharmaceutical manufacturing to the island. Many people may not know that Puerto Rico actually got - 47% of our economy is pharmaceutical and medical devices. It's not tourism. Many people may not be aware five of the top 10 bestselling drugs in the United States are made in Puerto Rico. So we do have the experience working with those pharmaceuticals. And fixing the power grid would help us, actually, to bring back many of the manufacturing that may be overseas.

SIMON: Yeah. The president's criticizing Puerto Rico several times over the past few years, the famous scene of the president tossing paper towels at survivors of the hurricane - can you understand why there are some raised eyebrows, as we say, about this big aid package being delivered so close to an election when we know that there are so many Puerto Ricans who are eligible to vote in the swing state of Florida?

GONZALEZ-COLON: Look; you know, I was there when that happened. There were no survivors there. There were actually volunteers that were gathering to receive the president at that time - when the paper towel. But you know what? The president may say a lot of things that I may not agree with him, but this is the first time ever that we do have a president signing and approving money for Puerto Rico. That never happened in this amount before. So it's these kind of things are happening now, and he's delivering.

SIMON: I must say, Representative Gonzalez-Colon, you're - it sounds as if you're saying very skillfully, in so many words, watch the bills the president signs, not what he says.

GONZALEZ-COLON: Actually, it's get rid of the noise; get the things done. And that's what I mean. In my case, you need to see what's happening with Puerto Ricans. I cannot vote on the floor. I'm just a voice.

SIMON: Yeah.

GONZALEZ-COLON: I'm a force (ph) in the U.S. Congress. And getting things done - it's more important to the people of Puerto Rico than whatever you said. He's signing the checks. Puerto Rico was included in the pandemic relief; 40,000 small businesses on the island received $1.8 billion with the PPP. That never happened before. Same thing happened with the hurricane. And again, I may not agree with everything the president says. You know, and I think much more needs to come. This is not the end. We're still working with the administration and with Congress in the House and in the Senate to make things happen.

SIMON: Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico, thank you so much for joining us.

GONZALEZ-COLON: Thank you. Have a good weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.