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Flake slowing Puerto Rico funds until financial, legislative concerns met

FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2017, file photo, debris scatters a destroyed community in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was one of two senators slowing a Puerto Rico aid bill because of financial and legislative concerns.

The Senate was expected to vote to advance a $36.5 billion relief bill for the hurricane-struck nation on Monday, but Flake said the measure does not introduce enough changes to make a lasting impact.

“I’ve got concerns about the absence of reforms in this bill, especially its failures to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act and address the shortcomings of the island’s bankrupt, state-run power company,” he said in a statement.

Flake also expressed concern that the bill could allow aid money to be wasted.

“Given that the national debt is more than $20 trillion, I believe Congress can do more to ensure every dollar in this bill is used as effectively as possible,” he said.

Though Flake and Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee oppose the bill, it was expected to pass later this week.

The Jones Act, aka the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires that “all goods shipped between waterborne ports” of the U.S. must be carried by U.S.-built vessels that are owned and operated by Americans.

The act has been criticized by many politicians, including Arizona’s other senator, John McCain. He introduced a bill late last month to remove the Jones Act.

Tens of thousands in Puerto Rico still do not have power, weeks after Hurricane Maria smashed into the island. It could be months before the electrical grid is restored.

KTAR News’ Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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