Congress voted on a bill that would provide disaster funds for Puerto Rico to help rebuild after the earthquakes that rocked the Island from December through January. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey listed the main points of the bill in a statement:
The emergency supplemental before you would provide $4.67 billion in targeted assistance to help families and communities recover from these devastating earthquakes and puts Puerto Rico on a better path to long-term recovery. It includes:
$3.26 billion in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds;
$1.25 billion for repairs to damaged road systems;
$100 million to restart school operations;
$40 million for disaster nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico; and
More than $20 million to help address the island’s energy needs.
In addition, this bill would provide Puerto Rico with flexibility to use this funding in conjunction with earlier disaster relief resources.
Trump will veto disaster aid bill
However, the Office of Management and Budget has announced that President Trump will veto the bill if it reaches him. In a statement, the OMB said that the bill “provides an additional $4.7 billion in disaster relief designed for Puerto Rico, which is already projected to receive $90 billion in disaster funds.”
Some $44 billion has actually been allocated for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery. The $90 billion is an unattributed number Trump has been using for some time. (Sometimes he has said $91 or $92 billion.) $91 billion was an early estimate of the cost to rebuild Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and that may be the source of the number.
Of the amount that has been allocated, less than half the amount mentioned by the OMB, only $1.5 billion has actually reached Puerto Rico. The OMB Points out that Puerto Rico has not spent all of those funds; however, the Government Accountability Office has reported that red tape has prevented the use of disaster funds in many cases.
Much of the OMB statement is a list of the aid that has been sent to Puerto Rico, including specific numbers of cots and bottles of water. One of the claims from the White House is that Puerto Rico simply doesn’t need any more aid.
“However,” the statement concludes, “neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse. Puerto Rico has a long history of inadequate financial controls over regular government operations, which forced the Congress to appoint a financial control board in 2016. Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island.”
Would statehood make a difference?
In a word, yes.
For perspective, the federal government provided $114.5 billion in aid after Hurricane Katrina. The New York Times reported many examples of corruption and fraud associated with that disaster. We are not suggesting that scandals are acceptable following disasters, nor are we trying to compete with New Orleans or even to throw shade. We’re just saying, states are treated differently from territories.
“Officials in Washington say they recognized that a certain amount of fraud or improper payments is inevitable in any major disaster,” the Times acknowledged, “as the government’s mission is to rapidly distribute emergency aid.”
In talking about states, however, we don’t hear that families whose homes have been destroyed don’t need any help, or that they don’t deserve any help because of political scandals.
Tell your representatives that you care about statehood for Puerto Rico.