President Trump on Thursday said federal relief workers can’t stay in Puerto Rico “forever,” but many Puerto Ricans still can’t get to work themselves — or even apply for unemployment benefits.
…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, the number of Puerto Ricans who’ve applied for jobless benefits has actually declined sharply instead of surging as expected.
How come? A widespread lack of electricity and damaged roads that limit travel. Puerto Ricans unable to work at their jobs either have no means to file their claims or the island’s government is unable to process them.
At the end of September, the U.S. government recorded just 328 new applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. territory. By contrast, initial jobless claims totaled 2,416 in the week before Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. That’s a 96% decline.
And claims appear to have fall even further in early October.
A U.S. Labor Department official said claims from the island were just starting to flow in and that some applications were being processed on the mainland. So look for jobless claims in Puerto Rico to shoot higher later in October.
A spike in Puerto Rico claims, however, is unlikely to cause the U.S. total to soar. Initial claims have actually fallen from a 2 1/2-year high of 298,000 in early September as more people went back to work in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Those storms briefly prevented millions of people from getting to work, although only a fraction of them filed for benefits. The situation in basically bankrupt Puerto Rico, though less populous, is more dire and sure to last a lot longer than that in Texas and Florida.
Trump had previously promised to stand by Puerto Rico until it had recovered and it’s unclear what he means by his latest tweets. Democrats quickly took to Twitter to push back.
.@POTUS, we don't abandon Americans in their time of need. PR & USVI need MORE help, not less, from the federal govt https://t.co/fKpTKLbyZQ
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) October 12, 2017