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National Emergency Declaration Initially Ignites Fears in Puerto Rico

President Trump has declared a national emergency to give himself more flexibility to appropriate funds to build the border wall which was one of his campaign promises. Trump has been talking about doing so for some time.

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney ran through the budget items the White House planned to use to come up with the needed funds. They include funds from the military construction fund and drug forfeiture funds (assets seized in criminal drug cases).

CNBC quoted Mulvaney as saying, “What’s not on that list is taking away disaster relief money from places like Texas and Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez Colon responded by tweeting, “I am pleased that the White House has heard my complaint so that funds for disaster recovery for are not redirected. Our struggle will continue so that the funds already allocated are disbursed.”

Puerto Rico has over $20 billion in disaster funds which were allocated but have not yet been provided to the Island. In comments on the House’s proposal for $600 in Puerto Rico nutrition assistance, the White House tied disaster funding to the border wall, saying, ” H.R. 268 includes $600 million in excessive and unnecessary funding for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP)…The only supplemental appropriations the Administration is seeking at this time are those that would address the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis along the southern border.”

Other indications that disaster funding could have been diverted to pay for the border wall include reports that the administration was thinking about diverting funds from other disasters by declaring the wall a disaster response. Major news sources said that the Pentagon had been asked to list money that had been committed but not yet spent. Bustle pointed to a House of Cards episode with a very similar plot line. No official announcement was made.

However, the idea came up again this week in a response to the direct question from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who told the Washington Examiner, “I don’t want to say I don’t know, I don’t want to lie to you, I can’t say.”

Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the possibility as “a concern,” but said he had not heard the option discussed..

Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) introduced a bill forbidding the use of disaster relief funds for wall construction. Governor Rossello threatened, in a tweet, to sue. Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Congress, condemned the suggestion in a letter to President Trump.

“I am writing to express my profound concern over repeated news reports that suggest up to $2.5 billion from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reconstruction funds for Puerto Rico may be redirected to secure the southern border,” the letter began. “The idea that these projects, essential to the recovery of some of the most disadvantaged communities of American citizens, are being looked at as sources of funding for other projects that the new congressional leadership is unwilling to fully fund, creates extreme anxiety not only in the Puerto Rican community in the island and mainland but also in the various states where such projects were allocated for disaster recovery and mitigation.”

“It is essential that the White House put forth a firm statement as to what can the people of Puerto Rico expect regarding their future recovery effort,” Gonzalez-Colon continued. “You must come forth as the strongest advocate for preserving the funding of these works and put an end to these rumors.”


Read full letter

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