Thursday, August 5, 2021

New Probe Confirms Trump Officials Blocked Puerto Rico From Receiving Hurricane Aid

An investigation confirms that the administration of former President Trump withheld $20 billion in hurricane relief for Puerto Rico after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, one of the deadliest U.S. natural disasters in more than 100 years.

A Department of Housing and Urban Development Office (HUD) of Inspector General report found that tensions between the Department of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) resulted in unprecedented procedural hurdles that produced delays in the disbursement of the congressionally approved funds.

It started in 2018 after the OMB began requiring the HUD to send grant notices for disaster funds through an interagency review process for approval, making it harder for HUD to publish the notices needed to unlock funding in a timely manner. Investigators found that OMB has never required such a review process for a notice allocating recovery funds.

The report said that investigators were unable to obtain testimonies from officials who ordered the interagency review process. Through the course of the investigation, access to HUD information was delayed or denied multiple times and several former senior administration officials at the OMB refused to provide requested information about their decision.

Throughout his term, Trump repeatedly opposed disaster funding for Puerto Rico while disputing and failing to acknowledge Hurricane Maria’s death toll. The Washington Post reported that Trump had also told top White House officials “that he didn’t want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico.”

Under Trump, Congress had approved a total of $20 billion in HUD funds for Puerto Rico’s post- hurricane reconstruction. However, the agency stalled the release for the aid in 2019 and imposed additional restrictions and requirements last year on how Puerto Rico could gain access to the funds, citing corruption and financial mismanagement concerns.

President Biden’s administration removed Trump- era restrictions unique to Puerto Rico limiting its ability to access recovery funds through HUD. The agency unlocked access to $8.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds to help the island build resiliency against future disasters.

According to the Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, the federal government has granted Puerto Rico $69 billion to help the island recover from Maria as well as other disaster that have hit the island over the past few years. But most of the money, hasn’t made its way to communities on the island.

NBC