Things That Matter

Puerto Rico Was Purposefully Denied Disaster Relief They Were Guaranteed By The Federal Government

It’s been more than two years since Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico and the recovery efforts have shown no signs of stopping anytime soon. Those efforts have been exponentially slowed down by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Two officials from the department, HUD head of Community Planning and Development David Woll and Chief Financial Officer Irving Dennis, appeared at a congressional hearing last week saying that they purposely missed a September deadline to release billions of dollars in hurricane recovery funds to the island.

Their reasoning behind the delayed money is simply a lack of trust between them and the U.S. territory’s housing agency to handle the money properly. This new development is a new chapter in the long dispute between the Trump administration and Puerto Rico over federal support following Hurricane Maria. President Trump has called Puerto Rico an “island with deep-rooted economic problems” and similar to what HUD officials voiced, he has stated that he doesn’t trust giving the U.S. territory more funds.  

“We want to have a belt and suspenders plan in place to make sure that, A: we’re protecting taxpayers but, B: more importantly, that the money is going to the people of Puerto Rico and not being wasted or abused,” Woll told lawmakers.

While it’s already been two years since Hurricane Maria hit, Puerto Rico has only received a third of the $43 billion Congress allocated toward hurricane recovery efforts, which includes the construction of rebuilding damaged homes. 

Credit: @nicolemarie_A / Twitter

According to NBC News, HUD officials were supposed to file funding notices to 18 different states that were directly affected by natural disasters back on Sept. 4. The agency did indeed publish the notices expect for Puerto Rico. If the notice was filed, it would have let Puerto Rico start creating the framework for a plan to manage the allocated funds. 

Despite the delay, Woll said at the hearing that the agency was committed to helping Puerto Rico but not without any proper oversight of future funds. 

“All of us at HUD stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Puerto Rico,” Woll said at the hearing. “At HUD we are committed to the recovery of all Americans whose homes and communities were devastated by natural disasters, and we are steadfast in our stewardship of the funding and trust in us by you in your colleagues in Congress.”

During the hearing, Woll and Dennis voiced similar concerns about the lack of oversight when it comes to the financial troubles that have affected Puerto Rico for years. The two also brought up the recent resignation of Ricardo Rosselló as governor and the islands decade long debt issues as reasons why they delayed the funds. 

“When you think of $20 billion going through an entity that has no infrastructure for that, that does not get developed overnight. When you think of the capacity they need, they need people, they need processes and they need technology,” Dennis said at the hearing. “We’re trying to make sure it is that there is good oversight and controls and policies in place.”

The hearing resulted in some members of Congress saying that the delay violated federal law that was set in the appropriations bill that included the funds.

Credit: @repchuygarcia / Twitter

The statements from Woll and Dennis prompted some backlash from lawmakers who weren’t pleased to hear that funds were being withheld due to political reasoning. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chair of the Appropriations Committee, called HUD’s planned delay as “perpetual stonewalling.”

“No caveats. No carve-outs. No exemptions,” Lowey said. “It’s not just unacceptable: It is unlawful.”

The action from HUD was also criticized by top Republican on the subcommittee who also voiced their concerns on the delayed funds. 

“Look, I understand that there may be factors outside of our witnesses’ control that led to miss this deadline,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL). “But I’m troubled—I’m always troubled, and I don’t care which administration [does] it—when any administration doesn’t meet requirements set in statute.”

Going forward, Dennis and Woll say that a quicker disbursement of the money will happen once Puerto Rico’s housing department, Departamento de la Vivienda, can ensure the agency that it can handle the large incoming money being allocated to them. There have been concerns that the agency doesn’t have enough staffing and oversight to handle the large influx of money which again raises concerns about the mishandling of funds.

“No one more than Puerto Ricans want oversight, but what we’ve seen so far doesn’t work,” Miguel Soto-Class, founder and president of the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank, told NBC News. “We don’t want punishment disguised as oversight.”

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Olympian Laurie Hernandez Is Back And Just Gave A Powerful “Hamilton” Inspired Performance

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Olympian Laurie Hernandez Is Back And Just Gave A Powerful “Hamilton” Inspired Performance

She’s back! After an almost five-year hiatus, Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez made her big return to competition at Saturday’s 2021 Winter Cup meet with moves to remember — set to some pretty unforgettable music, too.

The 20-year-old gold and silver medalist hit the mat with a “Hamilton”-inspired floor routine.

Laurie Hernandez just gave a stunning floor routine at the 2021 Winter Cup.

Please welcome Laurie Hernandez back to the floor! After a four-and-a-half-year hiatus, the 20-year-old Olympian showed off her strength, proving, like Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, she is inimitable and an original.

“My first priority [at Winter Cup] is to go in and hit clean routines and show that I can be consistent,” Hernandez told NBC News. “But my next one is to enjoy myself.” It sure looks like she accomplished her goal, with nonstop energy and a smile on her face throughout her entire choreography.

As “The Room Where It Happens” played in the background, Hernandez flipped and danced her way to a 12.05 score in the event, good for an 11th-place finish in the floor exercise.

And after the USA Gymnastics Winter Cup in Indianapolis wrapped up, the noted theater fan shared her routine on Twitter and asked for feedback from “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda and actor Leslie Odom Jr. — who sang “The Room Where It Happens” as Aaron Burr in the original cast.

This weekend’s performance was her first since stealing hearts during the 2016 Rio games.

Hernandez was part of the Team USA “Final Five” squad that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But following those games she took a step back from competition, later revealing that former coach Maggie Haney was emotionally and verbally abusive toward her. The gymnast dealt with depression and eating disorders as a result.

Hernandez said it wasn’t until years later that she realized her love of the sport could be separated from the trauma she experienced. “I thought I hated gymnastics, and it wasn’t until mid-2018 I realized that it was the people that made the experience bad, not the sport itself,” she explained on Instagram.

Though she already has a gold medal from the team all-around and a silver medal from her 2016 individual performance on the beam, Hernandez is now ramping up for more challenging competitions over the next several months with the hopes of qualifying for the Olympics this summer. But with a crowded field vying against her for just four roster spots, securing a bid to Tokyo will undoubtedly be an uphill battle.

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Legendary Astrologer Walter Mercado’s Home In Puerto Rico Is For Sale And At A Discount

Entertainment

Legendary Astrologer Walter Mercado’s Home In Puerto Rico Is For Sale And At A Discount

Prediction: You will want to check out Walter Mercado’s house in Puerto Rico, and maybe even buy it up and call it home. And what perfect timing, because the stars have aligned to bring you his Puerto Rico pad at an unbeatable price.

That’s right! Walter Mercado’s home in San Juan is up for sale!

Located in an “exclusive area” of San Juan, according to the property listing, the six-bedroom, five-bathroom estate is on sale for just $395,000.

Since you likely won’t fly to San Juan right now (thanks, COVID), you can check out the flamboyant cape aficionados sweet, two story tropical oasis on Realtor.com.

The listing photos show the home’s vibrant interior, which appears in the documentary, with yellow, red and green walls. The first floor boasts a large living room, kitchen and dining room. Tile-work leads up the stairs to the second level, where there’s yet another living room, dining room and a smaller kitchen — plus two balconies.

Outside, there’s a pool area with a gazebo and a patio, as well as a covered carport for at least four cars.

The home seems to be having trouble finding a buyer.

The estate originally hit the market for $495,000 in September 2020 but with no buyer in the cards, it then had its price slashed to $430,000 in December, according to Realtor.com. It’s now asking just $395,000.

Mercado already sold his Miami property in 2017 to cover financial difficulties.

While in Miami, Mercado maintained an apartment at The Grand in downtown for many years until 2017 when he decamped part time to New York.

Many in his family had hoped to turn his Puerto Rico home into a museum to the late icon, but due to zoning issues the family decided the best step forward was to list the home for sale. Regarding Mercado’s belongings that were contained within the home (so many of which we came to see in the Netflix documentary), one of his nieces told Pledge Times, that though family members have each kept some items, many were given to the Miami History Museum, and some items will go to Mexico. However, his cape with the Puerto Rican flag is being sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

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