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FEMA says it won’t cut off food, water aid to Puerto Rico

The Federal Emergency Management Agency never intended to end food and water assistance to Puerto Rico today, a spokesman said, and will continue providing it to Hurricane Maria survivors as needed. Reports this week that the agency had said it planned to cut off aid distribution to the storm-ravaged island had alarmed policymakers in Washington and Puerto Rico.

The spokesman, William Booher, said the Jan. 31 date was mistakenly publicized by the agency in a National Public Radio interview published on Monday. According to Booher, Wednesday was not an actual cutoff, but rather an internal planning date to evaluate if Puerto Rico could still justify needing assistance.

“This aid is not stopping,” Booher said in an interview. “There was no, and is no, current plan to stop providing these commodities, as long as there continues to be an identified need for them.”

The confusion marks the latest blot in the federal government’s response to Maria, which was widely criticized as too small and too slow. More than four months after the storm, nearly a third of Puerto Rican power utility customers are still without electricity, and the island’s financial position remains shaky.

Booher insisted on Wednesday that FEMA was not backtracking on its food and water aid plans in response to public criticism. Had the agency planned to end the assistance, it would have required giving notice to the Puerto Rican government, Booher noted, which said in a statement on Tuesday that it had been blindsided by the prospect of a cutoff.

President Donald Trump offered a brief moment of recognition for natural disaster victims in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, telling them, “We are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together. Always.”

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