90 days after a deadline requiring action on disaster funding for Puerto Rico, a group of U.S. lawmakers held a press conference accusing the federal government of breaking the law by missing that deadline.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey laid out the situation clearly:
More than 2 years after Hurricane Maria destroyed their homes, businesses, and public infrastructure, the American people of Puerto Rico are still without much-needed relief and recovery assistance because of perpetual – and illegal – stonewalling by this administration.
As early as February of 2018, Congress appropriated funds for Puerto Rico’s recovery.
On June 6, 2019, an additional $331 million in aid for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was signed into law.
That legislation also required HUD to publish all Federal Register notices for mitigation funding by September 4, 2019. No caveats. No carve-outs. No exemptions.
Yet, as we stand here today, 90 days past that statutory deadline, the notice for Puerto Rico still has not been issued.
A number of other lawmakers also spoke out at the press conference, including Joaquin Castro and Darren Soto.
Did HUD break the law?
The deadline was part of a law passed in June. Missing that deadline means that HUD broke the law. In fact, when they were questioned in October by Congress, HUD officials agreed that they were breaking the law.
There appears to be no uncertainty about this fact. HUD is intentionally and knowingly withholding about $18 billion dollars in disaster recovery funding from the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.
Is there a good reason for HUD to break the law?
Actually, having a good reason for breaking the law is really not enough to resolve the problem. But HUD’s defense for their refusal to provide the funds Congress allocated is that they think Puerto Rico might have a problem with corruption. Secretary Ben Carson said that he worried about sending money to Puerto Rico because of the “history of financial mismanagement.” Asked what law allowed him to hold up the funds, he said it was “common sense.”
However, the Office of Inspector General has stated that Puerto Rico does not show a pattern of corruption, according to Jeremy Kirkland, counsel to HUD’s inspector general. The Office of Inspector General has never suggested that the funds not be provided.
Some members of Congress have suggested that the source of the problem is bad feeling about Puerto Rico on the part of the current administration. President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the territory has received $91 billion dollars in disaster relief and that Puerto Rico has received more than any state in disaster aid.
These claims are false.
The amount allocated to Puerto Rico by Congress is about half Trump’s figure, and the amount that has actually reached the Island is less than half the amount allocated.
But there have been claims that unidentified speakers from the White House have said that the president doesn’t want to provide funds to Puerto Rico. Is HUD’s unwillingness to produce the money caused by bad feelings in the administration?
Reach out to Congress
We don’t know why these funds are not being sent to the Island. We know that Puerto Rico is on the minds of some people in Congress. This is a great time to reach out to your Congressional reps. Let them know that you appreciate their support for Puerto Rico — and make sure they know that statehood is the solution.
As long as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico has a very limited influence in American democracy. Contact your legislators and let them know what you think.