WASHINGTON/SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico is likely to need far more than $30 billion in long-term aid from the U.S. government for disaster relief and rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Maria, a senior Republican congressional aide said on Thursday.
The aide, who asked not to be identified, said that while Congress has quickly fulfilled requests from the administration of President Donald Trump for disaster assistance, there are concerns that government agencies have not acted quickly enough in response to the storm and bureaucratic requirements may have slowed work of the Department of Defense and other offices.
Disaster modeler Enki Research estimates damage to the island at $30 billion, with $20 billion in direct physical damage and $10 billion in economic impact.
The aide said that the Trump administration request for additional money could come late next week or the week after. “We are pushing earlier,” the aide said.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday that $6.7 billion in approved hurricane relief funding would be given to federal emergency officials in two days to help victims of three recent storms, including the most recent one that hit Puerto Rico.
“A huge capital injection will happen in two days, so the resources are there,” Ryan told reporters, adding that lawmakers will quickly act on the Trump administration’s requests for hurricane relief for the U.S. territorial island.
Risk-modeling firm RMS said on Thursday that it estimated insured losses from Hurricane Maria of $15 billion to $30 billion, with Puerto Rico and Dominica suffering the most destruction.
Earlier this week, rival modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated insured losses for Maria, which hit the Caribbean last week, of $40 billion to $85 billion. They said Puerto Rico alone accounts for 85 percent of the loss.
The hurricane has raised questions about how much of a role the federal government plays in solving Puerto Rico’s crisis and whether creditors would give any relief to the island, weighed down by $72 billion in debt.
Trump said on Monday that Puerto Rico’s billions of dollars of debt to Wall Street and banks “must be dealt with.”
DEBT FORGIVENESS UNLIKELY
Trump on Tuesday agreed to boost federal disaster assistance, ordering increased funding be made available to assist with debris removal and emergency protective measures. The question remains how large any package might be.
The White House does not think it needs to address restructuring the island’s debt in its next request for funding from Congress, Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, told reporters on Thursday.
Bondholders and investors have said that debt forgiveness would be unlikely as it could be politically difficult and lead to lawsuits. The more likely scenario would be that FEMA and the federal government extend to Puerto Rico aid that can be used to rebuild the island, while creditors continue to negotiate the underlying debt problems in bankruptcy.
A source familiar with Puerto Rico’s restructuring said that creditors will likely wait and see what the Federal government will do in terms of an aid package before deciding their course.
Anything that creditors do will likely come through mediation with the judges, that source said. The source said that there was no current pressure for debt forgiveness but any discussions over debt would have to be done in the context of a bankruptcy court.
On Wednesday, creditors of Puerto Rico’s bankrupt power utility PREPA said they had offered the utility some relief, with a $1 billion loan and a discount on a portion of the existing debt – although that got rejected by the island, which called it “not viable”.
A group of creditors holding COFINA debt, which is bonds backed by sales tax revenue, said in a statement on Tuesday that they hoped the island received “necessary humanitarian and governmental assistance” to strengthen the island’s infrastructure for the long term.
Since Puerto Rico filed the largest-ever U.S. government bankruptcy in May, creditor groups have litigated fiercely over who has first claim on the island’s limited cash. Specifically, holders of some $17 billion in so-called COFINA debt, backed by sales tax revenue, are locked in a lawsuit with owners of $18 billion in general obligation bonds who claim entitlement to all island revenues, sales tax included.
Under the fiscal turnaround blueprint approved by Puerto Rico’s oversight board in March, the island has just $800 million a year to service debt – a quarter of what it owes.
Mediated settlement talks are ongoing, but neither COFINA nor GO creditors have yet been willing to compromise with such little cash available.
Mediation surrounding the bankruptcy is in New York this week and will include mostly procedural items, said a source familiar with the restructuring.
additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Megan Davies; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker
Workers restore power lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, in 2017. The Trump administration says it will award nearly $13 billion in infrastructure grants to help the island recover from the storm that hit three years ago. Ramon Espinosa/AP hide caption
Workers restore power lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, in 2017. The Trump administration says it will award nearly $13 billion in infrastructure grants to help the island recover from the storm that hit three years ago.
Puerto Rico is being promised nearly $13 billion in federal disaster funding to repair its electrical and education infrastructure three years after Hurricane Maria’s devastation and six weeks before the presidential election.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to award two separate grants to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid system and educational facilities, the White House announced Friday.
“Today’s grant announcements represent some of the largest awards in FEMA’s history for any single disaster recovery event and demonstrate the Federal Government’s continuing commitment to help rebuild the territory and support the citizens of Puerto Rico and their recovery goals,” the White House statement said.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm in September 2017, killing at least 3,000 residents and essentially destroying an electrical system that was already unreliable. Parts of the island remained without power for almost a year.
When asked why he had announced the plans 46 days before an election, and not in the aftermath of the devastating storm three years ago, President Trump blamed Democrats and said, “We’ve been working on it for a long time.”
Out Of Darkness: Puerto Rico Struggles
A Tree Falls In Puerto Rico, And 840,000 Customers Lose Power
The White House said $9.6 billion in federal funding will help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority “repair and replace thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems [and] office buildings,” and make other improvements to the grid.
An additional $2 billion grant to Puerto Rico’s Department of Education will go toward restoring school buildings and other educational facilities. Officials in Puerto Rico have sought to overhaul the public school system in Maria’s aftermath, including by allowing charter schools, despite backlash from teachers.
“Our schools and our electrical system require priority attention, particularly after the natural events that Puerto Rico has experienced during the past three years,” Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez said, adding that the funds will go toward services essential to the public.
Vázquez also said that the funding is thanks to the work of, and good relations with, the White House and Trump.
Congress originally allocated the aid in 2018, but it has been held up as local and federal governments wrangled over how much repairs would cost and what kind of controls would be placed on spending.
Mental Health Toll Of Hurricane Maria Still Palpable In Puerto Rico
In August 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development placed restrictions on the flow of aid to Puerto Rico. But it also announced the release of billions of dollars to certain states hit by natural disasters, drawing criticism for being stricter toward Puerto Rico than other jurisdictions.
The administration has cited concerns about alleged “mismanagement and corruption” in Puerto Rico as the reason for the holdup.
Earlier this year, HUD released its hold on more than $8 billion in aid, which was supposed to reach the island in September 2019.
Recovery efforts following hurricanes Maria and Irma have been slow in Puerto Rico, and the Trump administration has faced criticism over its response. In 2018, an internal FEMA report found that the agency failed to prepare properly for the previous year’s hurricane season and did not adequately support the affected regions.
Trump has disputed the number of hurricane-related deaths on the island and called the federal government’s response to Maria “an incredible, unsung success.”
On Friday, Democratic lawmakers raised questions about the timing of the funding announcement. Both Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are courting the Latino vote in Florida, a major swing state.
During a visit to Florida this week, Biden focused outreach efforts on the Puerto Rican community and announced a plan to assist with the island’s recovery from economic challenges as well as natural disasters.
‘I Don’t Feel Safe’: Puerto Rico Preps For Next Storm Without Enough Government Help
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., pointed out in a statement that the Trump administration waited to allocate necessary funds until just before the election.
“While I certainly hope to see this money put to good use making Puerto Rico’s electrical system more resilient, these delays are unacceptable, and it is insulting to Puerto Ricans everywhere that the Administration is so blatantly playing politics with this aid,” she said.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement that the delay in disaster aid for infrastructure rebuilding will have long-term economic and political consequences.
“President Trump talks about Puerto Rico like an unwanted colony full of people he thinks are dirty and not worth helping,” Grijalva said. “It will take years for Puerto Rico to repair the unnecessary harm this president and his incompetent assistants have caused the Puerto Rican people, and they won’t forget it.”
Since December 2019, Puerto Rico has suffered hundreds of serious earthquakes that have devastated infrastructure and left many shelterless and without power. Last Friday, the House passed a bipartisan multi-billion-dollar aid package to help the people of Puerto Rico survive this disaster and recover. However, Trump has threatened to veto the aid package, and Senate Republicans have fallen in line and indicated that they will not move on the bill.
We’ve been through this before – after two devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017, the Trump administration and Republicans dragged their feet on disaster relief. Puerto Rico was still struggling to recover from that heartless oversight when this fresh disaster hit.
Let’s do what we can for those suffering in Puerto Rico, and tell our Senators to make aid a priority by passing the House’s bipartisan bill.
ACTION: Thank House for Passing Aid Bill, Tell Senators to Push it Through
Call both Senators:
* Senator Patty Murray: 202-224-2621 / 206-553-5545
* Senator Maria Cantwell: 202-224-3441 / 206-220-6400
Call your Representative:
* Rep. Pramila Jayapal: 202-225-3106 / 206-674-0040
* Rep. Adam Smith: 202-225-8901 / 425-793-5180
Script for Senate: “Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [PLACE] about the series of earthquakes that have devastated Puerto Rico. It is crucial that we move quickly to take care of American citizens who have lost their homes and livelihoods to this natural disaster. Last week the House passed a bipartisan aid package to do just that. I’d like to ask that [Senator] make it a priority to bring this bill to a vote in the Senate. Thank you.”
Script for House: “Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [PLACE]. I’d like to thank [Representative] for passing the Puerto Rico aid bill last week. It is crucial that we move quickly to take care of American citizens who have lost their homes and livelihoods to massive earthquakes, so thank you for making it a priority.”
- Post published: October 9, 2017
- Post category: News
CW4K Sends Aid to Puerto Rico
CW4K & American Airlines Help American Red Cross Deliver Safe Drinking Water to Puerto Rico
Sussex, WI – October 09, 2017
CannedWater4Kids (CW4K) and American Airlines have answered the call put out by the American Red Cross to urgently send clean, safe, drinking water to Puerto Rico to aid in Hurricane Maria disaster relief efforts. Over 29,000 pounds of clean, safe dinking water in 12oz cans (close to the 30,000 lb. American Airlines weight limit) is on its way.
CannedWater4Kids (CW4K), and American Airlines have answered the call put out by the American Red Cross to urgently send clean, safe, drinking water to Puerto Rico to aid in Hurricane Maria disaster relief efforts. Over 29,000 pounds of clean, safe drinking water in 12oz cans (close to the 30,000 lb. American Airlines weight limit) is on its way.
It was Wednesday, September 20, 2017 that Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4 hurricane, with 150 mph winds, landed with a direct hit on Puerto Rico crushing the entire island and drenching it with several feet of rain. Today, several weeks later, the Department of Defense says that virtually 95 percent of the island remains without power, and approximately 55 percent of the population is still without safe drinking water. There’s limited food and cell service, and dozens of remote villages remain completely cut off from everything. The New York Times stated that Maria destroyed 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry.
The impact of Hurricane Maria will be felt across Puerto Rico for a long time. Fortunately, companies like CW4K, and American Airlines are providing humanitarian efforts that are helping to ease the pain. This delivery of safe canned drinking water will be a refreshing sight.
“It is hard to imagine being without clean, safe drinking water,” said Greg Stromberg, CannedWater4Kids water charity Founder & CEO. “When the American Red Cross asked for our help. We immediately said, yes. It was the right thing to.”
“We are grateful to American Airlines, who stepped up and is providing for the delivery of the canned drinking water,” added Stromberg.
“In times like these, we are humbled to find ourselves in the position to make a difference,” said Jim Butler, American Airlines senior vice president of international and cargo. “By using our aircraft to provide life-saving materials, food and water to the island, we are doing everything we can to help the people regain a sense of comfort that was taken from them by Hurricane Maria.”
“We are so grateful to CannedWater4Kids and American Airlines for their support of our operations through this in-kind donation,” said Don Herring, Red Cross chief development officer. “Generous donations from our partners are essential to our ability to fulfill the mission of the Red Cross.”
The administration plans to release $1.3 billion that was meant to help Puerto Rico rebuild after Hurricane Maria in 2017, and will remove restrictions on another $4.9 billion.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said it would release $1.3 billion in aid that Puerto Rico can use to protect against future climate disasters, and is starting to remove some restrictions put in place by the Trump administration on spending that was to help the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Administration officials, describing the move as a first step toward addressing racial inequality through policies designed to address climate change, said they planned to ease the limits that the Trump administration placed on another $4.9 billion in aid on the morning of Jan. 20, a few hours before the former president left office.
Puerto Rico’s reconstruction after Maria, which devastated the island more than three years ago, has been far slower than the recovery in other parts of the country, such as Texas and Florida, that were also struck by major disasters that year. That is partly because the Department of Housing and Urban Development had placed restrictions on Puerto Rico’s aid funds that didn’t apply to other recipients, according to current and former officials and policy experts.
“That slow pace of disbursement has dampened Puerto Rico’s recovery,” said Rosanna Torres, Washington director for the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank.
The money is part of $20 billion that Congress provided HUD after Maria for recovery and for protection against future storms in Puerto Rico. According to federal data, only $138 million, or about 0.7 percent, has been spent, a far lower rate than for funding that Congress provided HUD to help Texas, Florida and other parts of the United States to rebuild after similar disasters.
That discrepancy reflects the insistence by senior Trump officials that Puerto Rico provide HUD with more information and documentation than state governments about its spending plans before money would be released, according to Stan Gimont, who was HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for grant programs at the time.
“It seemed like it was excessive,” said Mr. Gimont, who left HUD in 2019 and is now a senior adviser for community recovery at Hagerty Consulting. “It made it a really onerous process.”
The Trump administration’s reluctance to provide funds to Puerto Rico reflected a number of motivations, according to Mr. Gimont and two other former senior administration officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the matter because they worried doing so would upset their current or future employers.
One was the concern that the island would struggle to properly spend such a huge amount of money, creating the possibility that some of it would be misspent. That concern was overblown, Puerto Rican officials say.
Kenneth McClintock, a former Puerto Rico secretary of state and Senate president, said that the island had an admittedly slow and bureaucratic process to approve construction projects. But the Trump administration also tagged Puerto Rico as more corrupt than other jurisdictions and delayed the disbursement of federal funds to begin with, he said.
“Trump believed that Puerto Rico was the most corrupt place in the nation,” he said. “We do have corruption,” Mr. McClintock said, but he said that he considered it no worse than other parts of the country.
Through a spokesman, Ben Carson, the HUD secretary under President Donald J. Trump, declined to comment. A spokesman for Mr. Trump didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Concerns about corruption or mismanagement led to a worse problem, former Trump officials said: Three and a half years after Maria, much of the damage has yet to be repaired.
“The money was appropriated to promote recovery,” Mr. Gimont said. “If you don’t spend the money, you’re sure not promoting the recovery.”
Mr. Biden had raised the slow release of Puerto Rico disaster money as an issue during his presidential campaign and had pledged to reverse it.
Trump officials complicated the Biden team’s ability to make good on that pledge. On the morning of Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, Brian Montgomery, who was about to leave his post as HUD’s deputy secretary, approved a request from Puerto Rico to gain access to $4.9 billion to help harden the island against future storms.
But in approving that request, Mr. Montgomery added requirements that made it harder for Puerto Rico to spend the money, which would have forced the island to go through a separate approval process for each individual project funded by those dollars. On Monday, HUD reversed the decision, telling Puerto Rico to apply again for the $4.9 billion so that HUD can approve its application without the restrictions.
William Rodríguez, the secretary of the Puerto Rico Housing Department, said in an interview on Tuesday that officials expect the Biden administration to set the same aid terms for the island as the federal government has placed on other states and jurisdictions, as opposed to the stricter ones set by the Trump administration.
“There was discrimination against Puerto Rico,” he said of HUD under Mr. Trump. Mr. Rodríguez said he has now been told to expect a finalized deal in a matter of weeks. “We are very optimistic,” he said. “Puerto Rico has a great need, and for three years has not been able to recover as it could have.”
In an interview, Mr. Montgomery, the former deputy secretary of HUD, said the conditions that the agency imposed on Puerto Rico were justified by the fact that the island rarely suffers from large-scale disasters and so lacked the experience handling large amounts of federal disaster aid that some states have.
Mr. Montgomery also said that the conditions imposed in the Jan. 20 letter to Puerto Rico weren’t intended to tie the hands of the Biden administration. He said the goal was to make more funding available to Puerto Rico, under conditions that he thought were appropriate to safeguard public money.
“The secretary and I felt very strongly to get this money out on our watch, because we had been working very closely with Puerto Rico on it,” Mr. Montgomery said.
A spokesman for HUD, Michael Burns, called the agency’s moves on Monday an attempt to “reset” its relationship with Puerto Rico. “The action we are taking today will help the island build resilience to future storms and floods,” he said.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration is giving $13 billion dollars in aid to help Puerto Rico rebuild nearly three years after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria, the president announced in a press conference on Friday.
What You Need To Know
- President Trump announced that his administration is giving $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico
- The aid comes nearly three years after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria
- The money will be used to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid, improve infrastructure and invest in education
- Trump has previously been unwilling to release aid to Puerto Rico
“Today my administration is making the largest emergency relief award in history to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and educational system,” Trump said, adding that he is “the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.”
The White House said $9.6 billion of the new funding is intended to help the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority repair and replace thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems, office buildings, and make other grid improvements.
It said $2 billion would be for the Puerto Rico Department of Education to repair schools across the island.
Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced thanked both the president and FEMA in a statement, saying she was grateful for the work.
¡Felicidades 🇵🇷! Acabo de hablar con @FEMA_Pete me notificó que logramos la aprobación más grande en la historia de FEMA de $13 billones para reconstruir nuestro sistema eléctrico y educativo. Gracias al trabajo y las buenas relaciones con @WhiteHouse, @Cor3pr y @realDonaldTrump. pic.twitter.com/Qz39vwAhrD
— Wanda Vázquez Garced (@wandavazquezg) September 18, 2020
Others were not quite as welcoming of Trump’s announcement, with some politicians—like New York’s Puerto Rico-born representative Nydia Velázquez—accusing the president of playing politics with critical aid.
“The Trump Administration delayed, dragged its feet and resisted allocating these badly needed funds. Now, forty-six days before the election, the Administration has finally seen fit to release these funds,” Velázquez wrote in a statement. “While I certainly hope to see this money put to good use making Puerto Rico’s electrical system more resilient, these delays are unacceptable, and it is insulting to Puerto Ricans everywhere that the Administration is so blatantly playing politics with this aid.”
When asked about the timing of the announcement, the president said it simply took a long time to prepare.
Trump in the past has opposed providing additional aid to Puerto Rico, arguing it received too much already and expressing concern that the money would be wasted or misspent.
In the aftermath of the storm, he publicly feuded with the mayor of San Juan over her criticism of his administration’s response to the storm. Trump irritated many by tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd during a visit to an island church. Democrats earlier this year posted an image of the scene on a billboard in Kissimmee, a heavily Puerto Rican city in central Florida.
Hurricane Maria slammed into the island in September 2017 with winds of 155 mph, causing an estimated $100 billion in damage and killing nearly 3,000 people, according to the official death toll that Trump said was exaggerated to make him look bad.
Even now, thousands of homes are still damaged.
Power wasn’t restored island-wide until nearly 11 months after the storm. The system remains vulnerable, with outages affecting tens of thousands of people on a regular basis.
President Donald Trump claims that “Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane” and that it received “more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before.” Neither of those statements is true.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as of the end of last year, Puerto Rico had actually received about $11.2 billion in disaster relief payments since 2017.
In all, the federal government has allocated nearly $41 billion, and has obligated about half of it via binding agreements, but as we said, so far just a portion of that — $11.2 billion — has been distributed in Puerto Rico.
To get to the $91 billion figure, a senior administration official told us Trump is including the total allocation for Puerto Rico — $41 billion — plus an estimated $50 billion in future FEMA costs “over the life of the disaster,” which can stretch decades.
“It is accurate to say that $41 billion has been allocated and there will likely be billions more,” Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told us via email. “But to just add up actual appropriations (most of which has not actually [been] obligated, much less cash on the ground) to some future cost estimates seems inaccurate to me.”
The president is also wrong to say Puerto Rico got “more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before.” The federal government spent more on Hurricane Katrina aid.
Trump’s claim — which he made via a tweet — came as Republicans and Democrats butt heads on disaster aid proposals, with Democrats seeking more aid for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money. The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019
….The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump. So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted. Cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019
Trump has used this $91 billion figure before. He cited it in a meeting with Republican senators on March 26, and again on March 28, telling reporters, “I’ve taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever. We have $91 billion going to Puerto Rico. We have $29 billion to Texas and $12 billion to Florida for the hurricanes.”
We asked the White House how Trump arrived at the $91 billion figure, and a senior administration official broke it down to us like this: $14 billion in FEMA allocations to date, plus $26 billion in non-FEMA allocations — for a total of $41 billion allocated for Puerto Rico disaster relief.
For more details, the official pointed us to FEMA’s Spending Explorer website, which allows users to track disaster aid by state appropriated in 2017 and 2018. It tracks spending in three categories: allocated (which means Congress has appropriated the funds), obligated (which means the government has entered a binding agreement to award funding), and outlayed (which means the money has actually been paid).
As we said, the FEMA calculator shows only $11.2 billion of the $41 billion allocated for Puerto Rico disaster relief has been paid so far. (We should note that not all disaster relief going to Puerto Rico is directly tied to Hurricane Maria. The appropriations also include relief from Hurricane Irma, which was much less severe for Puerto Rico, but which also caused some damage.)
But to get to $91 billion, the senior administration official told us, the president is also adding $50 billion, the “estimated future FEMA costs over the life of the disaster.” The official referred us to a report from the Washington Post Fact Checker that said the $50 billion was “an internal Office of Management and Budget estimate of the potential liabilities over the life of the disaster that would need to be committed under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988,” which governs federal disaster response in the U.S. The Post added that the estimate “was described as a high-end estimate subject to change year by year.”
“Stafford Act claims can be paid out for decades, and future claims are very difficult to quantify,” a House Appropriations Committee spokesperson told us.
Post-disaster federal funding comes from two main sources, the Disaster Relief Fund and supplemental appropriations, according to Ellis. By the end of 2019, FEMA estimates that a little less than $21 billion will have gone to Puerto Rico from the Disaster Relief Fund as a result of Maria (with another $3.6 billion going to the Virgin Islands).
By comparison, FEMA to date has spent more than $50 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, including $32.6 billion to Louisiana. Ellis notes that nearly $200 million in Katrina-related disaster aid will come from the relief fund this year, “which gives you an idea of how long these funds trickle in.”
The appropriated funds are harder to track, Ellis said. In addition to Katrina, there were two other major storms in the U.S. in 2005, Rita and Wilma. And in addition to Maria, Hurricane Irma made landfall the same year in 2017. The funds for multiple storms can go into the same accounts, making it hard to track aid for particular storms.
The Congressional Research Service estimates that, in all, “Congress provided roughly $120 billion for Hurricane Katrina.” So even if the president’s long-term cost estimate for Puerto Rico pans out, it would still be less than what was spent by the federal government on Katrina.
Comparing money allocated after storms also needs to account for the severity of the storms, and how much damage they cause.
Although the federal spending for disaster relief in Florida and Texas has been lower, as the president noted, those storms also caused less damage than Maria did in Puerto Rico.
According to a study published in the journal BMJ Global Health on Jan. 18, “the federal government responded on a larger scale and much more quickly across measures of federal money and staffing to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, compared with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The variation in the responses was not commensurate with storm severity and need after landfall in the case of Puerto Rico compared with Texas and Florida.”
It has been nearly 3.5 years since Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing an unprecedented amount of damage and death. The island nation has struggled to recover from the devastation caused by that natural disaster — and the Trump administration is in part to blame, as it chose to withhold as much as $1.3 billion in federal funding that was meant to aid in Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. On Monday, the Biden administration announced that it would right this wrong, pledging to release the funds and eliminate hurdles to aid that the Trump administration had put in place.
No specific date was provided as to when the aid will be released. Another $4.9 billion will be more readily available, too: The Trump administration, in a final move of pettiness and cruelty, had placed additional limits on that funding on the morning of Jan. 20, during Trump’s final hours in office. The Biden administration said that Puerto Rico will have to apply for that aid again, so that it can be approved this time without any additional restrictions.
At the time, the Trump administration claimed it imposed conditions on the money because Puerto Rico lacks experience handling large amounts of federal disaster aid, so it wanted to disperse the money slowly, per The New York Times.
Congress originally approved $20 billion in relief aid for Puerto Rico in 2017. That money was intended to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria, which did more than $90 billion in damage to the island nation. But according to a Congressional Research Service report filed in November 2020, just $20.6 million of that aid has actually been spent, in large part because aid has not been distributed, leaving 99.9% of funding unused.
Under Trump, the Department of Housing and Urban Development placed restrictions on funding to Puerto Rico that it did not place on states that sought similar aid and support. In early 2020, for example, the Trump administration blocked Puerto Rico from using the funding to rebuild its electrical grid and prevented the territory from offering a $15 minimum hourly wage for those doing federally funded relief work. The agency also required significantly more documentation from Puerto Rico than it did from other states before it would release funds. Those barriers have kept the vast majority of aid locked up and inaccessible.
Withholding that aid has made it next to impossible for Puerto Rico to recover from the massive amount of damage brought by Hurricane Maria. According to a report from MercyCorps, a non-governmental humanitarian aid organization, day-long power outages are still a common occurrence in the territory, more than three years after the storm hit. Many homes are still adorned with tarps instead of roofs, because the cost of restoring the structures is too high. Utility poles remain collapsed, indicating that much of the island’s grid has yet to be restored.
As many as 200,000 Puerto Ricans left the island in the wake of the storm. Many have simply not returned home. “That slow pace of disbursement has dampened Puerto Rico’s recovery,” Rosanna Torres, Washington director for the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank, told the Times.
There does not seem to be any good reason for the Trump administration’s decision to withhold or restrict access to the absolutely necessary relief funds. If anything, the act of governmental cruelty is the likely result of a weird personal grudge that Trump had against the leadership of Puerto Rico, which he has called "crazed" and "grossly incompetent." Remember too that this was a president who tossed paper towels, as if it were a game, into a crowd of storm-ravaged people desperate for basic necessities.
Even as aid starts to trickle in under the Biden administration, Puerto Rico is in a dire situation. The island has been hit by a series of earthquakes in recent months that are continuing to shake its already crumbling infrastructure. Thousands of residents have no home or shelter to speak of. These are tragedies in any situation — but it’s particularly upsetting to know that they were allowed to linger on thanks to the heartless actions of one powerful man.