Chair Grijalva Slams Trump Administration Conditions for Puerto Rico Disaster Aid, Announces Staff Delegation to Review Damage and Reconstruction

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva today said the Trump administration’s five-day delay in responding to Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vazquez’s request for a major disaster declaration – and its newly announced, completely unreasonable conditions for releasing the disaster relief aid it has illegally withheld from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Mariacaused $90 billion in damages in 2017 – are definitive proof that the island can expect no meaningful support from the White House or Republican leadership in Washington. Grijalva announced that he is sending a staff delegation to review damages, both from the hurricane and from recent earthquakes, and speak to local leaders about the pace of reconstruction efforts.

“If the president neglected recovery efforts on the mainland as badly as he’s done in Puerto Rico, we’d be talking about another Hurricane Katrina,” Grijalva said today. “The people of Puerto Rico have lost homes, suffered and died because the Trump administration didn’t care about American citizens in a time of crisis. The president considers disaster recovery money nothing more than a bargaining chip in his petty, unrelated political vendetta against people of color. Claiming you’re worried about corruption when in reality you’re illegally withholding appropriated funding as part of a personal political agenda is itself a corrupt act. The president was willing to risk national security when he did this in Ukraine, and he’s willing to prolong and deepen an ongoing humanitarian crisis by doing the same thing in Puerto Rico. My staff is headed to the island next week to learn more about how Congress can help and what resources impacted communities need most – and I suspect they won’t bump into Team Trump along the way.”

Beginning in August 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dragged its feet in appointing a federal financial monitor to oversee the disbursement of disaster recovery dollars to Puerto Rico. Since September 2019, HUD illegally withheld the publication of a Federal Register notice outlining how the funds can be used.

More recently, in the wake of the magnitude 6.4 earthquake and subsequent tremors on the south side of the island, the Trump administration proposed to release congressionally appropriated disaster funds only if Puerto Rico’s government gives new authority to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico to serve as the middleman for certain federal project funds and to pay federal contractors working on disaster relief less than $15 an hour. The administration also has demanded that none of the disaster funding go toward the island’s fragile electric grid. 

On Jan. 11, Gov. Vazquez asked President Trump to declare an expedited major disaster for Puerto Rico. It took the administration five days to respond. Until the president announced he would release some aid today, the Puerto Rican government only had access to $5 million in federal funds for earthquake-related disaster relief.

Credentialed reporters interested in a readout from the staff delegation should contact Margarita Varela-Rosa at (202) 748-2828 between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

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