BOSTON – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday, January 21, wrote to the heads of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to inquire about reports that the Trump Administration is using the shutdown as an excuse to intentionally withhold Congressionally-appropriated aid for Puerto Rico recovery efforts, in addition to efforts in several other states and territories, as the island struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Specifically, the senator inquired about two disturbing recent reports that (1) in September 2018, President Trump instructed his Administration to cut off all disaster-recovery funds to Puerto Rico, and (2) that the Trump Administration is using the shutdown as an excuse to stall the disbursement of housing funds for Puerto Rico. Disbursements for several other states and territories are also being delayed due to the shutdown.
“In the wake of these reports, I am particularly concerned about the fact that HUD has halted the disbursement of billions of dollars of housing recovery funds for Puerto Rico and other states and territories affected by recent territories as a result of the President’s ongoing government shutdown,” wrote the Senator from Massachusetts. “This refusal to provide this funding – which will go to ‘the restoration of damaged and destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure’ – is directly at odds with HUD’s own ‘Contingency Plan for Possible Lapse in Appropriations,’ which says that HUD will continue to disburse Community Development Block Grants and certain other grants during a shutdown.”
HUD allocated $1.5 billion to Puerto Rico on February 1, 2018, from an appropriation enacted in September 2017, and an additional $18.5 billion in April 2018 from an appropriation enacted on February 9, 2018.
“Given the President’s reported orders to his senior staff to eliminate Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery funding, this failure to provide congressionally-approved funds raises serious concerns that HUD is using the shutdown as a pretext for withholding funds from Puerto Rico.”
In addition, OMB recently issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing as “excessive and unnecessary” a grant of $600 million for disaster nutrition assistance included in a House bill – grant funding that Senator Warren supports – which could help 230,000 new program participants. Hurricane Maria left a large majority of the island’s population food insecure and in need of this nutrition assistance.
“These new reports and Administration actions appear to reveal that President Trump either does not care about or does not understand the needs of the Puerto Rican people and the federal laws that govern assistance to the U.S. citizens who live on the island,” wrote Warren.
The senator has asked both agencies to provide answers to her questions by February 5, 2019.