Disaster Funding and Respect

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has agreed to release funds for disaster relief for Puerto Rico… from the 2017 hurricane season. Roughly $8 billion of the $20 billion Congress already approved for recovery from there damage done by Hurricane Maria has been illegally withheld from the Island by this government agency. They have been refusing to take their next step in spite of strong opposition from Congress, and in spite of their public agreement that they were breaking the law.

They claim that they had to do this because of fears of corruption in Puerto Rico.

This is not the first claim of this kind. The Government Accountability Office said in a report on why Puerto Rico had not made more progress in disaster recovery that extra red tape was a major problem. FEMA quite simply said that they were treating Puerto Rico differently from the states because they didn’t trust Puerto Rico’s government.

Is Puerto Rico’s government perfect? Probably not. Does that mean that the people of Puerto Rico shouldn’t receive federal support? No.

Should Puerto Rico be treated with such disrespect? Certainly not.

Does federal aid depend on wise use?

The Cato Institute recently argued that “aid programs tend to be bureaucratic, inefficient, and beset by waste.” We are not taking a position on whether they are right or wrong. We’re just pointing out that they are talking about state governments. The amount of federal aid a state receives does not depend on whether federal agencies think they are using their funds wisely or not.

Does Puerto Rico use funds less wisely than states? There is no evidence that this is the case. HUD pointed out that the Governor of Puerto Rico stepped down after protests. Events of this kind have happened in states as well. Others have pointed out that there have been accusations of corruption against politicians in Puerto Rico.  There is an official list of the most corrupt states, and many of their stories are more colorful than Puerto Rico’s.

Again, we are not taking a position on who is right or wrong in any of these cases. We’re just saying that Puerto Rico is being held to a different standard and treated in a different way from the states. Every time a federal agency decides that Puerto Rico should have less funding, more oversight, or extra hoops to jump through, they show disrespect.

Is Puerto Rico different from states?

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The territory has been treated differently from the states for decades. The infrastructure is in poor condition compared with states. The amount of funds available, especially in smaller or more rural communities, is less than in the states. There is a cumulative effect of the way a territory is treated that can make disaster recovery more difficult.

If anything, this should be a reason to accommodate Puerto Rico more than a state. This should be a reason to provide more support, not less.

But it certainly is not a reason to delay help.

The recent earthquakes have been a grave setback and a terrible tragedy. They give the federal government a second chance to respond appropriately to a disaster in a territory belonging to the United States. Let your legislators know that this issue matters to you.

And let’s not forget that the path to equality for Puerto Rico and the states is statehood for Puerto Rico.

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