Donald Trump criticises amount of aid sent to Puerto Rico

  • 13/10/2017
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03:  US President Donald Trump speaks to the media before boarding Marine One to depart from the White House, on October 3, 2017 in Washington, DC.
President Trump is traveling to Puerto Rico after it was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last month.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

US President Donald Trump has pushed back against federal aid for Puerto Rico as the House of Representatives prepared to weigh US$36.5 billion ($A51.2 billion) in emergency relief for the US territory and other hurricane-hit areas as well as fire-ravaged California.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the bipartisan measure that will also provide relief to the storm-struck areas of Florida, Texas, and the US Virgin Islands, and leaders of both major parties have lauded the bill.

Mr Trump, in several early Twitter posts on Thursday, however, criticised Puerto Rico for "a total lack of "accountability", saying "electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes".

While he noted it was up to "Congress to decide how much to spend," he said: "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

The content and timing of the comments, as the island struggles with the storm's aftermath, prompted swift backlash from some Democratic lawmakers, who said such a move would amount to abandoning US citizens.

"There is still devastation, Americans are still dying. FEMA needs to stay until the job is done," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer replied on Twitter.

Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what Mr Trump meant by his tweets.

Republican US Representative Scott Perry defended Trump's statement, telling CNN federal assistance was meant to be finite and that it was "reasonable" for the island to eventually take up its own governance.

The bill includes US$18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund. Of that amount, US$4.9 billion is earmarked for loans to local governments to ensure that the cash-strapped Puerto Rico can keep government programs operating beyond October 31.

Other funds include US$576.5 million for the federal government's wildfire control efforts. About $US16 billion would go towards the National Flood Insurance Program to help it cover claims after reaching its borrowing limit.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, however, said more money would likely be needed later.

Puerto Rico is burdened with nearly US$72 billion in pre-hurricane debt being overseen by a federally created oversight board.