“More than two years after Hurricane Maria destroyed their homes, businesses, and public infrastructure,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, “the American people of Puerto Rico are without much-needed relief and recovery assistance because of perpetual and illegal stonewalling by this administration.”
This statement was made in a press conference by a group of Democratic lawmakers. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) similarly pointed out that more than 90 days have passed since the deadline for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide a notice of aid for Puerto Rico, and no such notice has yet been provided.
Stacey Plaskett (D), the representative for the U.S. Virgin Islands, expressed gratitude that the Virgin Islands has finally received notice, along with frustration that it has yet to receive the promised funding. Puerto Rico, too, she said, has not yet received the funds voted by Congress.
Funds approved but not sent
Congress appropriated $10.2 billion in disaster aid for Puerto Rico, some as long ago as February of 2018, and the approved payments have not yet been provided to Puerto Rico.
In June, Congress set a Sept. 4 deadline in a disaster aid bill (PL 116-20) for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue a notice needed to get the disaster mitigation funding sent to Puerto Rico.
“The Administration’s decision to knowingly ignore that deadline is not only unacceptable, it is unlawful,” said Lowey. “The American people of Puerto Rico are calling for help. There is no room for more delays or excuses from this Administration.”
Lowey repeated “the American people of Puerto Rico” more than once to remind listeners that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, just like the U.S. citizens living in the States.
A HUD spokesperson had an excuse for HUD’s failure to meet the September deadline. “Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption, and other abuses; we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most,” the official said. “This process must be handled in a prudent manner with strong financial controls to mitigate the risk to Federal taxpayers.”
It was not clear what steps had been taken in the 90+ days since the deadline, or what steps have been planned.
Rep. David E. Price of North Carolina, chairman of the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, said that HUD’s inspector general found “no evidence of widespread corruption in the housing authority of Puerto Rico.” He and Lowey sent a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson In September asking for HUD to explain why they ignored the deadline.
Lawmakers questioned HUD again in October, when HUD officials admitted that they were not complying with the law.
The claim that corruption in Puerto Rico’s government prevented the assistance being provided has morphed, in social media, into a claim that the appropriated funds were in fact sent to Puerto Rico, only to disappear into the pockets of the local government — or even into the pockets of members of Congress.
The response shown below was posted on Facebook in answer to the press conference mentioned above.
While there is no evidence supporting these claims, they may in part rest on President Trump’s repeated claim that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in disaster aid. The statement was initially made when Puerto Rico had received $11 billion in aid. It appears that many people believe that Puerto Rico received but misspent these funds.
We also continue to see responses in social media showing that some Americans still do not realize that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and not a foreign country.