In a scathing letter to the president, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently referred to the Trump administration as “shameful” and demanded an end to the delay in federal disaster assistance to Puerto Rico following hundreds of earthquakes and aftershocks. Although Congress has approved $18 billion in disaster relief aid for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continues to withhold the funds.
On January 13, Sen. Sanders and Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez wrote a letter to President Donald Trump for his immediate approval to release the funds that Congress previously approved for disaster relief in Puerto Rico.
“It is unconscionable that since December 28th, the people of Puerto Rico have been dealing with hundreds of earthquakes and aftershocks—just two years after being ravaged by Hurricane Maria,” the legislators wrote. “The hurricane devastated the island and today, tens of thousands of people are still living under tarp roofs. In recent days, the quakes have cost millions in damages, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused widespread electricity blackouts, and forced residents to resort to sleeping in roofless shelters due to the fear of being buried in their own homes by another earthquake.
“Officials estimate that 70% of the island’s structures were built before quake-resistant building codes were enacted. Yet, HUD is currently withholding $18 billion in disaster funding which Congress had approved for Puerto Rico.”
HUD is delaying the release of two tranches of aid worth roughly $18 billion that Congress appropriated for the U.S. territory. Despite the fact that the funds are meant to repair electrical grids and rebuild structures, HUD officials reportedly fear the funds could fall victim to corruption.
“Let us be clear: Postponing the disbursement of this vital assistance any longer—in the face of the humanitarian needs of Puerto Rico—is simply shameful,” the legislators concluded. “We additionally seek your explanation for this delay by January 20th.”
According to an analysis by the Center for a New Economy, the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Maria are still struggling to recover, and the longer aid is delayed, the greater the likelihood of broad damage to the island’s economy.
On Monday, Sanders tweeted, “The people of Puerto Rico have been battered by hurricanes and earthquakes. They need humanitarian assistance now.
“@NydiaVelazquez, @AOC and I say to Trump: Do your job and release the $18 billion in disaster funding that Congress already approved.”