October 2, 2017 / 6:11 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. weighs $13 bln in disaster aid for Puerto Rico, others -officials

(Adds FEMA administrator defending response)

By Richard Cowan and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - The Trump administration is preparing to ask the U.S. Congress for $13 billion in new aid to help Puerto Rico and other areas hit by natural disasters, congressional sources said on Monday, with the request likely by next week.

The money would help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the U.S. territory, leaving a large part of the island without electricity or clean drinking water and food shortages.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday amid questions over whether his administration has acted with enough urgency in helping distribute emergency supplies throughout the island.

Congressional sources said they did not have a precise figure for the likely new aid request, but said $13 billion was in the range of what was under consideration.

Additional requests from the administration are expected for longer-term assistance to Puerto Rico, as well as Texas and Florida, which also were hit by powerful storms in recent weeks.

Administration officials said Washington still has about $10 billion in unused disaster relief funds currently in the pipeline. About $7 billion in new money became available on Sunday with the start of the new fiscal year.

In addition, Congress in early September approved $15.25 billion in disaster aid. Of that, $7.4 billion was earmarked for the Federal Emergency Management Disaster Relief Fund. Another $7.4 billion is for Community Development Block Grants to help rebuilding efforts and $450 million for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan program.

Last week, a senior House Republican aide said Puerto Rico will need well over $30 billion in disaster relief from the U.S. government over the long term.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and other members of Congress met with FEMA and other Trump administration officials on Monday. He told reporters on a conference call he will seek at least $10 billion to $15 billion in additional aid to begin the recovery.

“We need someone to take charge,” Blumenthal said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, told reporters the administration needs to do better.

“There is no dollar estimate for how much is needed because there is no plan in place” she said.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long told reporters on a call on a trip to Puerto Rico Monday that things were improving with traffic moving and businesses reopening. “What I saw was progress,” Long said, adding, “I didn’t see anybody in a life-threatening situation at all.”

But he added “we have a long way to go in recovery” and said rebuilding Puerto Rico is “going to be a Herculean effort.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Shepardson and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker

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