Things That Matter

Trump Administration Transferred Nearly $10 Million From FEMA To ICE For Detention Programs

The Trump administration took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) budget this summer to help the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a budget report released last week. The document sent to Congress and released by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, shows that FEMA cut funding on training, IT security and infrastructure investments. It also reveals that FEMA’s operations and support budget was transferred into accounts at ICE to pay for detention and removal operations as well as border fencing and technology.

A 39-page budget document shows that the Department of Homeland Security requested about $9.8 million be transferred from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Senator Merkley, appearing on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” said the Trump administration was taking money from FEMA’s “response and recovery” and “working hard to find funds for additional detention camps.”

Merkely said he was made aware of FEMA’s budget cuts while looking into a solution for family separation and the detention centers set up along the border. He said the document makes it clear ICE is using money from FEMA “to build more detention centers.” Merkely believes the budgeting reallocation happened in response to the administration’s zero-tolerance policy. The policy has led to thousands of families being separated and housed in detention centers, which he says may have increased the need for more money in ICE’s budget.

While the money transfer from FEMA to ICE is less than 1 percent of FEMA’s overall budget, the document does confirm that the money would be spent on ICE’s detention facilities.

The DHS, which includes both FEMA and ICE, told Congress that ICE needed $200 million to cover the costs of detaining and deporting more migrants than the agency expected. To cover the deficit, DHS “reprogrammed” its financial resources, which is allowed under budget rules. Because of the loss of the $9.75 million, FEMA “will curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance,” the DHS writes. Without the money transfer, the document says “ICE will not be able to deport those who have violated immigration laws. ICE could also be forced to reduce its current interior enforcement operations.”

FEMA has acknowledged that funds were redirected but said the transfer hasn’t jeopardized relief efforts.

FEMA’s budget was decimated last year due to the barrage of storms and fires that affected the nation and the agency was criticized heavily for its handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

The DHS denies any money transferred came from FEMA’s disasters relief accounts, which pay for work related to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts,” Tyler Q. Houlton, an agency spokesman, said on Twitter. “This is a sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”

The report comes as the President is denying the number of casualties caused by Hurricane Maria last fall.

President Trump is defended his administration’s response to the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico last year, arguing new findings that Hurricane Maria killed far more people than initially believed. It’s the latest defense since Trump claimed that the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was an “unsung success.”

According to the independent analysis commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico, an estimated 2,975 more deaths than normal were recorded on the island from September 2017 to February 2018. The government’s first estimate was 64 deaths as a result of the hurricane. These numbers have left people wondering if similar results will happen again especially with the release of this document showing less funding for FEMA.

Many are questioning the transfer of money from FEMA to ICE, especially as Hurricane Florence hits the east coast.

Ray Zaccaro, Senator Merkley’s communications director, told NPR the administration’s response to the document has been indefensible.

“This comment from FEMA’s spokesperson is as factual as the president’s assertion that Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was ‘incredibly successful’ and ‘one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.'” Zaccaro said.

The release of the documents come as Hurricane Florence emptied homes and hospitals in both South and North Carolina. Sixteen people have died in Hurricane Florence so far and hundreds of thousands of people remain without power as the storm drops a lot of rain on the region.


READ: Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria Death Toll Is Now Close To 3,000 People Instead Of The 64 People Originally Reported

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

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

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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.”

READ: ‘We’re The Ones Making Wigs Modern’: These Female Entrepreneurs Want You To Support Black-Owned Hair Businesses

JetBlue Issued An Official Apology After One Employee In Florida Dressed Up As A Hurricane Maria Victim

Things That Matter

JetBlue Issued An Official Apology After One Employee In Florida Dressed Up As A Hurricane Maria Victim

@nats248 / Twitter

Every Halloween, we have the misfortune of reporting on how white people still don’t understand that culture, poverty, and other races are not costumes. JetBlue has recently issued an apology after one of its employees at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport showed up to work in a homeless Hurricane Maria refugee for Halloween. With tattered hair, makeup smeared across her face, and ripped disheveled clothing, the woman carried a cup for change and an offensive sign. It read, “Homeless, Need help trying to get back home to Puerto Rico or Cuba.”

According to one Twitter user, the costume “sparked controversy” at the airport, offending both employees and travelers alike. The Twitter user decided to take to the Internet to gather public opinion, tweeting, “This was the costume of a JetBlue employee at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I want to read your opinions.” Needless to say, the employee has been adequately roasted by Latinos everywhere, JetBlue has issued an apology, and has told NBC News that “the situation was immediately addressed.” 

Immediately, people took offense to the idea of dressing up as a Hurricane Maria refugee.

Credit: @nats248 / Twitter

“It seems fatal to me. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t say Cuba or Puerto Rico,” one offended Twitter user said in Spanish. She went on to say, “Many people don’t care about the homeless because they think they “asked for it,” but that is the sad reality of life. So many don’t care or respect the pain or difficulties of others.” Another Latino commented, “This IS offensive. Not because the name of my country is there, that only reflects their ignorance. But the issue of being homeless is too delicate and it is not funny at all to not have a roof, food, or clean clothes … but that’s just me.”

Meanwhile, Florida has become a hub for displaced Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria decimated the island.

Credit: @nats248 / Twitter

One woman took offense to the degrading imitation of the immigrants “who created and are the basis of this country.” Another woman suggested that the staff be given some sensitivity training regarding the community they serve, actual Cubans and Puerto Ricans. “Not sure if they know but thousands of people lost everything due to Hurricane Maria,” tweeted another dissenter. “For this JetBlue employee to think it’s OK to joke about the epidemic of homelessness in Puerto Rico and the U.S. is sickening and completely unacceptable. That’s NO JOKE.”

Another Latina was absolutely incredulous that a JetBlue employee actually “showed up to work in this racist and highly offensive ‘costume.’ People’s hardship and suffering should not be mocked like this.”

Then, the Twitter trolls infiltrated, calling Latinos “snowflakes” and “virtue signalers” for taking offense at the costume.

Credit: @dhock47 / @greciamaria / Twitter

We’ll spare you some of the more pointedly racist remarks. One user defended the costume, wondering out loud to a group of Latinos if, “maybe she couldn’t afford an expensive store bought costume, so she used what she had.” She went on to say, “I was a gypsy practically every year growing up, I’m sure that’s offensive too these days!” 🦗🦗🦗

Someone else jokingly pointed out that the costume is a fail because there is zero bandera pride. 🇵🇷🇨🇺

Credit: @ElGeorgeRiveraR / Twitter

“It grates me because a true homeless Boricua would have the flag, even if it was painted on their teeth,” tweeted Mr. Rivera. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York reported that more than 135,000 Puerto Ricans fled the island for the mainland United States within six months after Hurricane Maria made landfall. Nearly 57,000 of them moved to Florida. Puerto Rican homelessness is no laughing matter. Hurricane Maria made significant, generational impacts on Puerto Ricans. Whether the JetBlue employee decided to take on that traumatic event as a weak pander to vacation on the Caribbean island, or if she truly was so ignorant that we cannot find reason for her costume, commenting Latinos are largely “furious.”

Others are demanding that JetBlue actually “leave her jobless to find the joke in her ‘costume.'”

Credit: @dominopr777 / Twitter

“Shame on @JetBlue and their management for not sending this employee home as soon as they saw this highly inappropriate & insensitive ‘costume’. SHAME!,” commented one user. Jetblue has not responded to the tweet that set the public roasting in motion. Jetblue’s manager of corporate communications, Derek Dombrowski, emailed NBC News to issue an apology: “In the spirit of Halloween, our crew members are welcome to celebrate in costume, but one crew member chose a costume that was clearly insensitive and not in line with our costume policy. The situation was immediately addressed, and we apologize to anyone who was offended.”

While JetBlue has apologized for the offense, folks still want to know how the employee was “immediately addressed.”

READ: This Latina’s Chanclazo Costume Has Us All Terrified And Really Made Halloween A Time To Remember