What does being a U.S. territory mean for Puerto Rico?

President Trump posted a series of early morning tweets on Thursday that put the disaster spotlight back on Puerto Rico.

In one tweet he reminded everyone that Puerto Rico's "electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes." In the next one he blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and "a total lack of accountability." Finally, he appeared to threaten to remove federal aid workers from the territory after Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello responded by tweeting that Puerto Ricans "are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation."

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico more than three weeks ago, and residents of the territory have been frustrated with the federal government's response. Mainland politicians have also been urging the president to do more to help, such as New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who represents a large Puerto Rican constituency. She told NPR last month that the government's response has not been proportional to the extent of the disaster.

House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to visit Puerto Rico on Friday. The House on Thursday passed a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that includes money for communities affected by wildfires and hurricanes. It provides $1.27 billion for disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico.

What it means to be a U.S. territory

So what does it mean to be a territory, and what responsibilities does the federal government have to the people of Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is one of five inhabited U.S. territories, along with American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. People of these territories (except some in American Samoa) are U.S. citizens, pay taxes and can freely travel within the U.S.

Much like states in the U.S., the territories also have their own governments and elect their own governors.

Unlike states, the territories do not have a vote in Congress. They each send a delegate to the House who possesses all powers of a representative besides voting rights, like the ability to debate legislation or sit on committees.

The territories also send delegates to political conventions, such as those to nominate presidential candidates. However, the territories have no electoral votes in the presidential election.

Despite their inability to vote on federal issues, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens for more than 100 years and the government has the same responsibilities toward them as it does to other U.S. citizens.

Read more at WXXI News

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