The Trump administration announced Thursday nearly 20,000 federal employees and members of the military are still working to help Puerto Rico recover from hurricanes Maria and Irma since their September landfalls.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said the "full force of the federal government" is working to help the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico get back on its feet despite claims from congressional Democrats and local officials who say the response is insufficient.
"While very real challenges to restoring damaged infrastructure remain, more than 19,000 federal civilian personnel and military service members are supporting the islands, working 24 hours a day in support of the hurricane disaster relief mission," FEMA said in a statement Thursday. "These efforts include restoring power and potable water, returning hospitals to operation, increasing fuel supplies, increasing cell phone coverage, and re-opening transportation facilities."
The statement pushes back against local Puerto Rican officials' attacks toward President Trump after he tweeted the federal response must end at some point, and seemed to indicate Puerto Rico will need to start helping itself because federal employees and first responders cannot stay on the island "forever."
FEMA reassured Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents it is working with 36 federal departments and agencies to maintain "life-sustaining commodities and other essential services."
"As more businesses open and public services are restored, quality of life will continue to improve for many residents," the Department of Homeland Security agency added.
FEMA has approved more than $53 million in federal disaster assistance for Puerto Ricans and $2.5 million in requests from Virgin Islands' residents.
Exactly 97 percent of Puerto Rico's hospitals have power and the majority of telecommunications services have been restored.
Less than one-in-six people had power as of earlier this week and communications around the island are not expected to be fully restored until later this year. As part of FEMA's $169 million package for those affected by hurricanes Maria and Irma, the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority received $54.6 million for repairs.
Trump has been defending the federal response to Hurricane Maria for weeks now, amid Democratic complaints that not enough was done to help people immediately after the storm. Trump has said several times that Puerto Rico's shoddy infrastructure and $72 billion in debt set up the island territory for a tougher recovery.