How Much Disaster Relief Has Puerto Rico Received?

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017. Puerto Rico, a possession of the United States for more than a century, was already in a state of financial crisis when the hurricane season arrived. The hurricane did billions of dollars worth of damage, destroying structures all over the Island. Electricity and safe drinking water were not restored to everyone for more than a year.

Puerto Rico is rebuilding. Businesses are reopening, tourism is strong, and people are optimistic.

But Puerto Rico has not received the funds needed to rebuild stronger.

President Trump claimed in a tweet that Puerto Rico had received $91,000,000,000. This is not true. Puerto Rico has been allocated about $41 billion, and has actually received about $11 billion.

The White House later said that Mr. Trump was estimating how much money would eventually be provided. $91 billion is the amount that was estimated as the total cost of repairing damages in Puerto Rico.

A further disaster relief funding bill has been struggling through the legislature since the end of 2018. The government shut down has been given as one reason for the delay, but the Government Accountability Office issued a report saying that red tape has been one of the primary problems.

FEMA used new and different procedures for Hurricane Maria. In particular, a “manual reimbursement” procedure, never before used for a major natural disaster, has made it impossible for cash-strapped municipalities to pay for needed repairs. “According to FEMA officials,” the GAO explained, FEMA chose to do this “to mitigate fiduciary risk and decrease the risk of misuse of funds… they also decided to institute the manual reimbursement process due to Puerto Rico’s financial situation…”

It sounds as though FEMA was unwilling to provide the funds, for fear that Puerto Rico would misuse those funds. The result is that Puerto Rico has not received the money needed to complete the repairs required.

There are also special procedures required before Puerto Rico can spend the funds received, which have also gotten in the way of doing the needed work.

While funding continues to be debated and delayed, many Americans now believe that Puerto Rico has all needed funds, perhaps more than are needed. This is not the case. Puerto Rico needs, at least, the funds that have already been allocated. Let your legislators know.

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