October 4, 2017 / 4:15 PM / 3 years ago

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.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump walks past hurricane wreckage as he participates in a walking tour with (L-R) first lady Melania Trump, Guaynabo Mayor Angel Perez Otero, FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Lt. General Jeffrey Buchanan in areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S. on October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

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.

Following a closed-door meeting of the committee, Puerto Rico’s Republican delegate, Jenniffer Gonzalez, told reporters there are ongoing discussions among members of Congress, White House aides and the Treasury Department over a possible short-term loan to Puerto Rico, which she said will face a liquidity crisis in November.

She said it was unclear whether Trump might be able to issue an executive order, if he so desired, to provide quick financial help or whether Congress would have to act.

Representative Raul Grijalva, the senior Democrat on the panel, said of PROMESA after the meeting: “I said let’s open it up and see what is working and see what is not applicable in this situation, what we need to suspend.”

PROMESA is the federal 2016 rescue law under which Puerto Rico in May filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly and Megan Davies in New York, and Richard Cowan in Washington; writing by Stephanie Kelly; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Bases

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