Puerto Rico residents shared frustrations with Kamala Harris during visit

 March 23, 2024

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Friday, a journey unfolding amidst ongoing challenges in fulfilling the pledges made by her and President Joe Biden to the disaster-stricken island.

According to the White House, Harris intends to underscore how Biden's initiatives are facilitating the creation of employment opportunities in Puerto Rico, despite the persistent struggles with fundamental infrastructure issues.

Hurricane recovery remains unfinished

Puerto Rico has grappled with severe devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, alongside earthquakes in 2019 and 2020.

Despite the allocation of record-breaking amounts of reconstruction funding, a significant portion of these funds remains entangled in bureaucratic processes.

A Government Accountability Office audit released in February 2024 revealed that merely eight percent of the $23 billion in federal funds earmarked for reconstruction has been utilized.

The audit further highlighted the substantial amount of pending permanent work on the island, with Puerto Rico having expended only $1.8 billion of its allocated funds, much of which necessitates FEMA authorization for expenditure.

The island continues to endure sporadic electricity blackouts, exacerbated by unfinished upgrades to the power grid. Reports indicate a decline in Puerto Rico's power plant generation capacity from 52 percent to 42 percent in recent years.

Politically motivated visit

Harris' visit coincides with Democratic endeavors to maintain their support among the Latino demographic for the 2024 election. A February CBS News poll indicated a 12-point decline in Biden's Hispanic support since 2020, from 65 percent to 53 percent.

The visit has drawn attention to Puerto Rico's political landscape, with Senator William Villafañe of the New Progressive Party characterizing it as "notable" and "long overdue."

Villafañe emphasized the need for substantive action beyond mere acknowledgment, citing disparities in access to government welfare programs and healthcare services, coupled with an exodus of healthcare professionals due to inadequate reimbursement rates.

Upcoming primary

Harris' visit precedes Puerto Rico's 2024 Democratic presidential primary scheduled for April 28. During the 2020 presidential campaign, both Biden and Harris criticized former President Donald Trump's response to Puerto Rico's recovery efforts, promising a more empathetic and efficient approach.

Many in Puerto Rico remain unhappy with both Biden and Harris, however, as the unfinished recovery and broken promises remain a concern for residents.

The visit may not help much for Harris in the efforts to improve the campaign despite the island's tradition of supporting Democrats.

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