In a recent letter to the heads of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Sen. Elizabeth Warren inquired about two reports indicating that the Trump administration has cut off all disaster-relief funds to Puerto Rico and using the government shutdown as an excuse to stall housing funds designated for Puerto Ricans. Sen. Warren ended the letter by directly asking the agency directors if President Donald Trump ordered them or any other administration officials to cut off relief funds to Puerto Rico.
In a letter addressed to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and HUD Director Ben Carson, Warren wrote, “According to a Washington Post report from last week, President Trump, ‘after hearing, erroneously, that Puerto Rico was using the emergency money to pay off its debt,’ personally sought to cut off all emergency funds for the island. The report indicated that President Trump told then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and then-Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney ‘that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico,’ and that ‘he wanted more of the money to go to Texas and Florida.’ Then, in December, former Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude reportedly felt the need to remind White House officials that ‘the money had been appropriated by Congress and must be sent.’
“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 disasters as a result of the President’s ongoing government shutdown,” Warren continued. “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.”
Although HUD was expected to begin distributing billions of funds to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure this month, the federal shutdown has halted reconstruction efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. In her letter, Warren questioned whether the Trump administration is using the shutdown as an excuse to halt relief funds directed toward Puerto Rico.
Seeking answers no later than February 5, Warren asked Mulvaney and Carson if the president or anyone from his administration ordered them to eliminate disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico and why federal funds are currently being withheld from victims of Hurricane Maria.