Things That Matter

House Democrats Are Demanding Answers About Why The Government Is Withholding Aid For Puerto Rico

The recovery process in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria has been exponentially slowed down by a lack of adequate help from the Trump administration. If there was any more proof of that, it came last week as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Department held up $18 billion in aid that was designated for disaster relief in Puerto Rico.

The mandated deadline for those funds came back on Oct. 4 but no money was ever released. Ninety days later, Democratic lawmakers are looking for answers as to why Puerto Rico has been left in the dark here as recovery efforts continue more than two years after Maria hit the island. Even though HUD employees have testified that they know withholding this aid is illegal, they are continuing to withhold it. 

Recovery aid is needed in Puerto Rico now more than ever but as of now, it’s being withheld due to the Trump administration’s fears that it will be put in corrupt hands. 

Back in September, Congress had asked the agency to publish funding notices to 18 disaster-stricken states and territories. Seventeen were published with Puerto Rico being the lone exception. The funding notice was supposed to be $10.2 billion in aid to help build much-needed infrastructure reinforcement in anticipation of future storms.  

“This is not meant to be a suggestion, it’s mandated,” Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. David Price, D-N.C. told NBC News. “It’s time to release this notice and the longer this goes on, the more one has to wonder about the political influences that might be taking place at the top.”

In total, the agency is holding up $18.5 billion, the largest single amount of disaster aid awarded in the agency’s history. The reasoning behind the delay stems from fears that the money could be in corrupt hands, something that the agency’s secretary Ben Carson and President Trump have previously said

 According to NBC News, Price said the “Trump administration is exaggerating the corruption allegations since the Office of Inspector General didn’t find widespread corruption within Puerto Rico’s housing agency, which would be managing the federal housing aid at stake.”

In a statement to Newsweek, an unnamed HUD spokesperson reiterated Carson and Trump’s belief in the withheld funds being misused. The statement also notes that Puerto Rico has only used a fraction of the already allocated funds available to it already.  

“The Administration has taken historic action to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption, and other abuses; we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most. This process must be handled in a prudent manner with strong financial controls to mitigate the risk to Federal taxpayers. In addition, it is worth noting that Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million—less than one percent of those funds.”

Now Congress has a problem on its hands that has many Democrats calling for answers about when this disaster aid will be released, if ever.  

One of the members of Congress leading the charge is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas who told reporters last week that “the Trump administration knowingly broke the law by failing to comply with the deadline to issue a federal notice for over $10 billion in aid to Puerto Rico.”

According to John Hudak, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution told NBC News these types of congressional deadlines do at times get missed but there is also a level of transparency from agencies.  

“When these conversations do not happen, it means that something else is going on and it raises concerns that something improper might be happening,” Hudak said. “Instead, they silently missed the deadline.”

Hudak said that there are a few options that Congress can take to make HUD begin dispersing the disaster aid. The first option being halting the funding that the agency uses every day to operate but there is resistance from some Democrats in going that far right now. There is also the possibility that Congress and the Puerto Rican government could take legal action and sue the agency for basically not doing its job. 

Over 850 organizations as of Saturday had joined members of Congress in calling out the agency for not complying with the law. Many of them have stressed the importance of the aid and how critical that it gets released in a timely manner.

There is increased urgency coming from over 850 various organizations that have joined together with members of Congress in denouncing HUD for its actions. At stake is Puerto Rico, which still has ways to go in terms of full recovery from Hurricane Maria.

“It is outrageous that Secretary Carson continues to withhold critical mitigation funding for Puerto Rico approved by Congress nearly two years ago,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of National Low Income Housing Coalition, one of the 850 organizations that have denounced HUD. “Secretary Carson’s decision to ignore Congress and refuse to release these funds makes it nearly impossible for Puerto Ricans to prepare for future disasters. Congress must hold him accountable – every day of inaction puts American lives at risk.”

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A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

Things That Matter

A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

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Over the past two and a half weeks, Puerto Rico has experienced more than 1000 earthquakes. This number may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: after a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the island on January 7—the largest earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in more than a century—aftershocks have continued to jolt the island, leaving hundreds of people homeless, lacking supplies and electricity. Among the aftershocks was January 11’s 5.9 magnitude quake, which caused even further devastation, particularly to the southern part of the island. So far, the earthquakes have cost an estimated $200 million in damages, including the destruction of more than 800 homes.

But the damage hasn’t only been structural—several people are experiencing extreme anxiety as tremors continue to strike the island.

Credit: Facebook / ASSMCA Online

Officials from ASSMCA, Puerto Rico’s  Office of Mental Health Services and Addiction Prevention, have been making their rounds at outdoor shelters where displaced individuals and families have taken refuge, offering mental health support to those most affected by the quakes.

“These aftershocks are triggers for people,” Abdiel Dumeng, an ASSMCA employee, said in Spanish in an interview.”But I have to admit that we’ve seen a decrease in these kinds of crises, because we’ve been working together for a while, teaching people how to stay calm.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next month and will be exponentially “lower in magnitude”. But in the meantime, Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management estimates that more than 8,000 people are staying in these outdoor shelters—fewer than half are in government-run shelters, while the rest are taking refuge in either informal spaces or shelters run by non-government organizations.

What exactly constitutes an “informal” shelter? Well, some folks have simply taken their beds outside, staying close to home while avoiding the potential dangers of being indoors. Others are crashing with relatives in towns that have experienced less damage than other areas.

Credit: StarTribune

In response to the 5.9 earthquake on January 11, Governor Wanda Vázquez said that she had declared a major state emergency following an initial assessment of the damages incurred. Vázquez also announced the immediate disbursement of $2 million for the towns of Guánica, Utuado, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and Yauco, which experienced the most damage due to their proximity to the earthquakes’ epicenter. This $2 million was defined as a way to meet the towns’ most urgent needs—but now, ten days later, la gente está harta, because these needs still haven’t been met.

Just a few days ago, Vázquez fired two high-ranking officials in her administration: Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar. She also fired former Emergency Management Director Carlos Acevedo. The Governor’s reason for the dismissals was an alleged lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centers.

This lack of information had to do with the discovery of a warehouse in Ponce that was filled with seemingly forgotten disaster supplies. But these supplies were not sent in response to the current crisis—they date back to when Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 storm) hit the island in September 2017.

Credit: Carlos Giusti / Associated Press

And people are understandably angry. On January 20, scores of demonstrators gathered in front of the Governor’s mansion in San Juan to demand her resignation. While the Governor seems to have tried addressing the issue with the dismissals mentioned above, several people are accusing her of not taking accountability for this appalling error, urging her to step down. And with demonstrators vowing to stay in the streets until Vázquez steps down, the current situation looks a lot like last summer’s demonstrations, which ultimately caused Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

When asked by NBC News what the “human impact” of this mistake is, Rafael Gonzalez—President of PROFESA, a Puerto Rican Professional Association that delivered aid during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—said, “We saw it on [sic] Maria. We saw what happens when you don’t deliver the supplies that people need. People die.”

Indeed, more than 3,000 people died as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (not to mention highly insufficient disaster response on the part of the United States government). At this point, the recent series of earthquakes has resulted in one death and nine injuries. In an attempt to keep that number from rising, Jennifer Gonzales, Puerto Rico’s Commissioner to Congress, joined forces with five other members of Congress to send a letter to Donald Trump, asking him to sign a major disaster declaration that would bring federal funding to the recovery effort.

On January 16, Donald Trump responded by designating six hard-hit towns in the southern part of the island as major disaster areas. Hopefully this will result in an appropriate disaster response—one that will not negligently result in more forgotten aid.

After Andrew Yang’s Wife Comes Out With Her #MeToo Story, Eyes Are On Him

Things That Matter

After Andrew Yang’s Wife Comes Out With Her #MeToo Story, Eyes Are On Him

andrewyang2020 / Instagram

With the recent withdrawal of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julián Castro from the Democratic race, only one candidate of color remains: Asian-American entrepreneur Andrew Yang. The 2020 field made history as the most diverse to ever occupy a Democratic primary, and with Yang as the last POC standing, an undeniably homogenous (read: white) top tier looms on the horizon.

But it doesn’t have to! Yang is gaining some serious traction among young voters, raising more than $10 million of grassroots funding in the third quarter alone. And although he did not qualify for this month’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Yang dominated the trending section on Twitter as the event unfolded.

According to data from analytics firm Sprout Social, two of the top three trending hashtags were Yang-related: 12,221 tweets landed #YangGang in the No. 3 spot, while 24,244 tweets put #AmericaNeedsYang at No.1. ABC also reported Yang as the fourth most-tweeted-about candidate that night. And while it may seem a bit trite, this is a big deal—Andrew Yang wasn’t even present at the debate, yet he was so central to the conversation that his numbers superseded those of the candidates who actually made it to the stage.

And tbh, for someone who began as a truly fringe candidate—with no political experience to his name—Yang’s rising popularity is particularly noteworthy.

Credit: Gretchen Ertl / Reuters

While he still lags a few places behind forerunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, Yang is finally starting to garner more attention among constituencies and in the media (according to the GDELT Project’s Television News Archive, Yang only received 2,065 media mentions in all of 2019, as compared to an average of 43,331 for Biden, Warren, and Sanders). To be sure, a lot would have to happen for Yang to break into the top four, but that potential is definitely growing as he gains more exposure across the country.

In conjunction with his broadening reach, it turns out that Yang’s policies appeal to a wide variety of voters, proving the #YangGang to be especially diverse. In a poll from Morning Consult—which surveyed more than 13,000 likely Democratic voters—Yang emerged with the largest share of supporters under the age of 45, most of whom are male and many of whom are Asian-American. While he hasn’t garnered as much attention from conservatives and Trump supporters as competitor Tulsi Gabbard, several voters from these groups gravitate toward Yang because he, like Trump, is a successful businessman—not a politician—and they believe that his lack of political experience might actually be beneficial to making innovative and necessary changes. Plus, he’s caught the attention of an ever-growing list of celebrities, with endorsements from comedian Dave Chappelle, billionaire Elon Musk,  actress Teri Hatcher and the indefinable Donald Glover, who’s been hired as a creative consultant for the Yang campaign.

But maybe you still don’t know much about Andrew Yang. You might be wondering: What is the hype about? Why is Yang so appealing to los jovenes? What is so radical about his platform, and why should I pay attention?

Of course, the answers to these questions are lengthy and nuanced, so we’ll try to highlight some of the most essential details here.

Yang’s background as a tech entrepreneur underscores his emphasis on the rapid development of automation in the workforce. He posits that automation threatens certain jobs as well as overall economic stability, and in response to his forecast of impending job displacement, he has proposed what he calls the “Freedom Dividend”: a universal basic income of $1000/per month to every US adult.

Credit: Getty Images

As the son of two Taiwanese immigrants, Yang supports DACA and wants to repeal Section 1325—the section of immigration law that makes illegally crossing the border a criminal offense. He has said that immigrants are often scapegoated for “stealing jobs,” but we should “blame machines” for that.

Credit: Yang Family

He affirms the undeniable influence of the internet, and is the only candidate to emphasize the importance of legislation that deals with data protection rights—asserting that users should have property rights to their data.

Credit: Joseph Cress / Iowa City Press-Citizen

Yang’s awareness of internet culture may be the reason he is resonating with so many young people. A master of memes and merch, Yang is taking advantage of all the media platforms he can, savvily navigating the digital world to extend his reach across the nation.

Credit: CBS Los Angeles

Of course, Andrew Yang’s campaign is much more extensive than what is listed above. As the Democratic race continues, this political outsider will continue to stand out from the rest—and not just because he’s the last candidate of color in the running. With a slogan like #HumanityFirst, it makes sense that people from all camps and demographics are flocking to Yang’s rallies to hear what he has to say about our country’s long list of issues.