Thanks to the Shutdown, It’s Bankrupt Puerto Rico Extending the Aid

(Bloomberg) -- The federal government is supposed to be helping Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which killed an estimated 2,975 people and obliterated the energy grid.

But thanks to the record-long federal government shutdown, it’s the bankrupt island that’s extending the aid, in this case to the 4,500 federal employees in Puerto Rico whose paychecks have stopped coming.

Governor Ricardo Rossello called Thursday for a moratorium on electricity, water and tax collections from affected federal employees, according to an emailed statement. The metropolitan bus authority is also giving free rides to federal workers with a valid identification. And the island is stepping in at the federal prison in Guaynabo to restore family visitations, which had been suspended due to staffing concerns.

Rossello said the island’s development bank would also study the possibility of extending low-interest microloans to the workers.

Puerto Rico has 14,000 federal workers, about a third of whom haven’t been paid since the start of the shutdown.

But the island is already facing plenty of problems of its own, dating back even before the Category 4 2017 hurricane. Employment is low, poverty is high and the commonwealth is trying to climb out from under about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations that drove it into financial collapse.

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