Trump administration officials have admitted that last summer they knowingly withheld billions of dollars Congress appropriated to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. House Democrats say withholding the relief money violates the law.
Federal law requires that our government help Americans hit by natural disasters. But two Housing and Urban Development officials acknowledged at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Oct. 17 that HUD blocked the Puerto Rico relief funds.
The HUD delay meant the island missed a deadline to apply for billions of dollars in disaster relief funds, raising doubts about when, if ever, the money will flow to the island devastated in September 2017 by a Category 5 hurricane.
The federal money is part of a $19 billion supplemental disaster relief bill that Congress passed in June. It came with stipulations requiring HUD to provide funding notices to nine states and two American territories, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The agency published the required guidance in the federal register for 9 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Aug. 30, 2019. But HUD intentionally left Puerto Rico out of the notices, the HUD officials admitted.
Chairman Price [at the HUD hearing] wasn’t buying it.
“I think you are posing a false choice and … with respect of obeying the law, it shouldn’t be a difficult job, should it,” Price asked during the committee’s hearing Thursday.
Incredulous at the HUD conduct, Price said, “You had the option of ignoring the law because of alleged troubles in Puerto Rico… that justifies you breaking the law?”
Trump has a contentious, even contemptuous, relationship with Puerto Rico, often lashing out at local lawmakers on Twitter. He famously tossed rolls of paper towels to people suffering without electricity and drinkable water after Maria passed.
The slow response from the federal government has been blamed for the death of thousands of people, something Rosselló also denied for months. Trump has refused to accept that 2,975 people died. He also has denied that the federal government relief response was slow.
Instead, Trump has attacked his critics on Twitter noting that he has “taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever.”
Trump claims that the island has received $90 billion in Hurricane Maria disaster relief. That’s false. Puerto Rico has only received $14 billion in funds from the $42.8 billion Congress allocated.
Holding back more than $28 billion in relief money isn’t all Team Trump is doing to hurt the islands more than 3 million residents. Trump is trying to divert $155 million from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help build his border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, an issue expected to be explored in a future Congressional hearing.
Today a least 30,000 Puerto Rico homes are without roofs two years after the hurricane brought flooding, destroyed the electrical grid and deprived thousands of drinking water and shelter. Many homes now rely on blue tarps stretched overhead to keep rain from falling into their homes.