U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand unveiled a significant aid package for two U.S. territories recovering from a pair of major hurricanes that caused billions in damage and left millions of people without access to electricity or clean water.
The legislation supported by Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would provide $154.4 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The "Marshall-style" plan includes $46 billion in federal grants to rebuild homes and spur economic development and $2.73 billion in small business disaster loans.
An additional $3.63 billion would support the Army Corps of Engineers' recovery efforts. A main focus of the funding will be the dredging of Cano Martin Pena, a channel in Puerto Rico.
Federal funding would be available to rebuild or upgrade critical infrastructure, including Puerto Rico's aging energy grid, and water systems.
The measure would also call for the elimination of Puerto Rico's debt, which exceeds $70 billion. Short-term funding would be provided to support day-to-day government functions.
Other provisions in the bill include lifting the cap of federal Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It would also provide parity for the territories' involvement in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Gillibrand, who visited Puerto Rico in October and called for a "Marshall-style" plan following that trip, urged her colleagues in Congress to do more to address the humanitarian crisis affecting both U.S. territories.
"Congress must rise to the occasion and implement this new Marshall Plan to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands rebuild and recover," she said. "We must all pledge to stand with these families until the islands are rebuilt and fully back on their feet."
Hurricanes Irma and Maria impacted Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands within a three-week period. Both were powerful Category 5 hurricanes that hit islands in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
In the aftermath of the hurricanes, a vast majority of Puerto Rico's 3.5 million citizens were without power. Access to clean drinking water was a challenge and phone service was scarce.
Some of the utilities are coming back on line, but most of Puerto Rico still doesn't have power.