White House steps up aid for financially ailing Puerto Rico
Washington — Hoping to spur economic development in financially ailing Puerto Rico, the White House said Thursday it will speed access to almost $400 million for roads and other public works projects on the island.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, during a visit to the U.S. territory Thursday, was to sign agreement leading to more technical assistance from Washington and more immediate access to money to keep road projects on schedule, said Jason Miller, deputy director of the National Economic Council, which advises the president on economic policy.
Other Cabinet secretaries are expected to follow in the months ahead as the administration tries to help Puerto Rico weather its crisis. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will visit in April to examine ways to strengthen tourism. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will come in May.
But the White House also said Congress needs to give Puerto Rico the ability to seek bankruptcy protection under a framework reserved for U.S. territories. That proposal has drawn objections in Congress, with some Republican leaders saying Puerto Rico has the tools to restructure a large portion of its debt voluntarily.
The administration has also called for increased Medicaid funding and making a tax credit for low-income workers available to people living in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has $72 billion in public debt that the governor has said is unpayable.
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