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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Trump Administration Slashes Funding For Puerto Rico’s Medicare Funding When They Need It Most

Things That Matter

Trump Administration Slashes Funding For Puerto Rico’s Medicare Funding When They Need It Most

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The long-standing feud between President Trump and Puerto Rico has been well-documented. Whether it’s been Trump calling the island “one of the most corrupt places on Earth” or labeling it’s politicians as “incompetent” altogether, this past weekend is just the latest chapter in this dispute. 

President Trump reportedly slashed billions of dollars worth of Medicaid funding that the federal government was preparing to allocate to the U.S. territory. According to Politico, Trump personally intervened with a new $1.4 trillion spending package, which was unveiled by lawmakers this week, that would have given Puerto Rico $12 billion over four years. Instead, the new plan will only allocate up to $5.7 billion in Medicaid funds for the island over the span of two years. 

The change in allocated money is a reversal from the originally agreed-upon sum that both Republican and Democratic leaders on two key congressional committees, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. This came after months of negotiating a figuring out a “long-term financial path” that would have helped Puerto Rico. 

While both Democrat and Republican lawmakers had come to an agreement on the spending bill, President Trump thought that amount was “too much.”

Three sources told Politico that the president didn’t back the first agreed upon deal because Trump believed that the $12 billion awarded “was too much and pushed to reduce the total amount.” Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers had to then revise the amount being given due to prevent a government shutdown at the end of this week.

For Puerto Rico, things haven’t been easy this year as the island has leaned on short term funding extensions since the fall. This is due to it facing a fiscal cliff, a short-term money boost, back on Sept. 30 that would be expiring shortly after. The latest series of funding installments are set to expire this week. 

This funding blow follows the tough times since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 where over 3,000 people were killed and countless homes were destroyed. The hurricane only added more challenges in its negotiations to secure funding for a longer-term agreement for its Medicaid program. According to Politico, the funding “covers roughly 1.4 million low-income people.” In addition, the island has seen economic upheaval and political corruptness, an issue that lawmakers have tried to address by placing stronger measures to prevent inappropriate spending from public officials in Puerto Rico. 

Per Politico, the funding slash was labeled as “a win for President Trump and the American people,” a White House spokesperson said. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a frequent Trump critic, didn’t see it that way. 

“This administration remains committed to properly prioritizing U.S. taxpayer dollars,” Chase Jennings, a spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the news outlet. “With the historical waste we have faced in Puerto Rico, additional funding was not needed or fiscally responsible.”

Even some Puerto Rico officials lauded the spending bill that passed, praising the two-year extension of funding that was given. Jennifer Storipan, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, whose role is the main liaison between island officials and the federal government, said that the U.S. territory will only move forward with negotiations to secure long-term funding. 

“We will continue to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a longer-term funding mechanism that provides stable healthcare to the people of Puerto Rico,” Storpan said. 

Not all of Puerto Rico officials were on board with President Trump’s last-minute funding slash. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has previously sparred with Trump, wrote on Twitter that “Trump always discriminates against Puerto Ricans. That is why it is inconceivable that there are still Republican politicians in Puerto Rico who support it.

While Puerto Rico will still be receiving a two-year extension when it comes to Medicaid funding, there is still looming uncertainty in the long run when it comes to health coverage for low-income residents.   

While the spending package would provide additional stability to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program for the next two years, negotiations for additional funding would have to be jump-started again in three years. This has some people worried since the federal government treats the island’s Medicaid program differently because it’s considered a territory, not a state.

Instead, Puerto Rico receives a fixed grant instead of open-ended federal funding which has some like Robert Greenstein, who works with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, worried about the long term implications. 

“With another funding cliff looming in two years under the new agreement, Puerto Rico may continue to lack the certainty it needs to commit to long-term increases of its very low payment rates to health care providers to stem their alarming exodus to the mainland, to provide coverage for such key health treatments as drugs to treat Hepatitis C, and to cover more poor, uninsured residents.”

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

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

Things That Matter

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.”

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