Puerto Rican Gov. Suspends Utility Bills for Federal Workers Until Shutdown Ceases

Federal employees who work in Puerto Rico are getting a break from Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló .

Rosselló announced Thursday he will suspend water and power bills for federal employees working and living on the island until the partial U.S. government shutdown is lifted.

A total of 4,500 of 14,000 federal employees working in Puerto Rico are reportedly impacted by the shutdown.

The Puerto Rican territory's utility service is government-owned, the Associated Press reported.

"Given the reality that this closure of the federal government continues and that the impasse that has caused it does not show immediate signs of resolution, our administration has taken a series of measures to extend help to affected employees," Rosselló wrote in a statement, reported The Hill.

The payment suspensions are meant to ease the financial hardship of federal employees forced into furloughs during the shutdown.

Additionally, Rosselló announced he will extend by 90 days the collection of taxes for federal workers. Employees, he said, will remain eligible for unemployment benefits.

Federal employees also receive free bus service, and Rosselló said he is investigating possibly arranging with Puerto Rico's development bank to offer workers low-interest loans.

One commenter on The Hill report who goes by "StillRelaxin'" posted his reaction: "Nice to see government take action FOR citizens for a change. Maybe this forward thinking will catch on in the States?"

About 3.2 million U.S. citizens live on the island.

Puerto Rico and its residents are still recovering from devastating Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2017, when nearly 3,000 people died. The entire electrical grid was knocked out during the horrific storm, making communication next to impossible for first responders. Highway access was also greatly affected.

At the time, Rosselló estimated that at least 60,000 homes lost proper roofing. The most vulnerable, including the elderly and bedridden, were most affected.

After Maria, a category 4 storm, hit, President Donald Trump downplayed its severity and his administration was widely criticized for its lackluster response to the disaster.

Shortly after the storm, when the official death toll stood at 16 people, Trump marveled over the small loss of life compared to that of "a real catastrophe like Katrina," reported the Chicago Tribune.

According to National Hurricane Center data, Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, directly caused 1,200 deaths. By comparison, some researchers included the number of indirect deaths in Puerto Rico following Maria.

As Tribune reported, there is no national standard for counting disaster-related deaths.

Reportedly, about 96 percent of Puerto Rican residents had their power restored by about seven months after Maria hit, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

#PUERTORICO: Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced today that the island's government-owned utility companies will suspend water and electricity bills for federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown - the longest in U.S. history. pic.twitter.com/ejWOlHjhbG

— CaribbeanNewsNetwork (@caribbeannewsuk) January 25, 2019