Aid for Puerto Rico an opportunity to do more than help hurricane recovery

Hurricane Maria was the most devastating storm to hit Puerto Rico in decades, perhaps as much as a century. It will take years and an enormous amount of federal aid to help the island recover. Because it is a U.S. territory, that assistance is merited.

But Puerto Rico had been hit by another kind of storm long before Maria raked it. For years, purposeful inefficiency in government and outright corruption have been a plague on the island.

Territorial officials have pleaded for years for Congress to bail them out of Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt. Some aid has been provided, with conditions attached to ensure money is spent prudently.

Unfortunately, years of special interest politics left the island a wreck in some respects. For example, the power company had been neglecting needed maintenance to the point that blackouts were common before the hurricane struck.

Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, including utilities, is important. But not a dime of federal aid should be provided for such purposes without strict oversight from Washington. Federal money needs to be spent as effectively as possible to help the people of Puerto Rico, not to line the pockets of the same favored individuals and interests who benefited from the old ways of doing things.

Puerto Rico was in trouble before Maria ravaged the island. Now, it is in truly dire straits. Victims’ fellow Americans are eager to help in the recovery process — which may be an opportunity to rebuild in other important ways.