Things That Matter

Trump Refuses To Release Vital Aid To Puerto Rico In Wake Of Damaging Earthquakes

Over three dozen Democratic lawmakers have demanded Housing Secretary Ben Carson explain why the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department is breaking the law to withhold $8.3 billion in aid from Puerto Rico. 

Representative Nydia Valesquez led the charge in writing a letter signed by 41 Democrats to Carson on Monday, suggesting that the Trump administration has no real justification for withholding the hurricane readiness assistance. 

HUD was supposed to disburse $9.7 billion to the commonwealth beginning last September but has since only given $1.5 billion of the allocated funds, according to the New York Daily News. 

HUD says Puerto Rico won’t be getting their due funds anytime soon.

The nearly ten billion dollars in funds were allocated by congress to improve Puerto Rico’s natural disaster readiness in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes that killed roughly 3,000 people. The funds proved to be necessary when multiple earthquakes ranging from 4.1 to 6.4 in magnitude that left thousands without power. 

“We have repeatedly implored Secretary Carson to follow the law, do right by Puerto Rico and release the assistance our fellow citizens are legally due,” Velazquez told the Daily News.

HUD claims they are denying release of the funds due to corruption they cited no evidence of and failed to specify. The executive branch cannot legally withhold congressionally approved funds. 

“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: the people of Puerto Rico,” the senior agency official told the Daily News. “Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million — less than 1% of those funds.” 

Democrats ban together to demand the release of the remaining funds to Puerto Rico. 

“Due to the new emergency at hand and the urgency of the situation, we are officially requesting an in-person meeting,” the Democrats wrote in the letter to Carson. “It is your responsibility as secretary of HUD to provide members of Congress an explanation as to why your department has chosen to violate the law by withholding these critical resources. Puerto Ricans have waited too long.”

Velazquez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, even wrote a separate letter to Carson, who has responded to neither effort. This isn’t the first time Democrats have led a charge against the Trump administration regarding funds to Puerto Rico. Just last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded the release of the aid which was approved for housing development, infrastructure needs, and economic revitalization.

“We call upon the White House to stop its unlawful withholding of funds from Puerto Rico,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference last week. “There are needs that need to be met, there has been a disaster designated, but the ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal.”

Velasquez told the Daily News that the Trump administration’s constant withholding of aide has a more sinister motivation. 

“The real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump’s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering,” Velazquez said

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he plans on leading a delegation to Puerto Rico this week to assess whether New York State can send additional disaster recovery. 

The Washington Post editorial board releases the op-ed “Puerto Ricans should never forget how Trump treated them.”

“Here’s what Puerto Rico has endured over the past two years: a devastating hurricane that killed and displaced thousands of people and plunged the island into months of darkness; an incompetent and corrupt local government; a bungled and halfhearted emergency response from the federal government,” the editorial board wrote. “Now, even as hurricane recovery remains incomplete, a new natural disaster: a 6.4-magnitude earthquake followed by powerful aftershocks.”

The earthquakes displaced 2,000 people without power, left nearly the entire island without electricity, and roughly 250,000 people without water. Trump approved $5 million in FEMA aid following the declaration of a state of emergency but the number pales in comparison to what Puerto Rico is owed. The Washington Post noted a study that showed the federal government responded more quickly and effectively to hurricanes in Texas and Florida — where Trump has a large deal of support — in comparison to hurricanes in Puerto Rico. 

Puerto Rico is owed an estimate of $18 billion in total congressionally approved recovery aide. 

“As opposed to erecting hurdles to recovery, the administration should be clearing a path, righting past wrongs and delivering the support our fellow American citizens so clearly need,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said

Among the letter to Carson’s signees were Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congressman Joaquin Castro, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Bernie Sanders, and other party members.

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