Members of Congress Speak Out Against HUD’s Illegal Withholding of Aid for PR

U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development

Today, members of the U.S. House of Representatives spoke out at a press conference to mark 90 days since the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) broke the law. The Department ignored a statutory deadline to issue a Federal Register notice detailing how Puerto Rico can use $8.2 billion in disaster relief aid appropriated by Congress through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program and continues to withhold $1.9 billion for electric grid upgrades. Puerto Ricans continue to suffer from major hurricanes that made landfall more than two years ago while HUD illegally withholds this aid.

Members released the following statements:
“The Trump administration is continuing to treat Puerto Ricans like second-class citizens, and we won’t stand for it,” said Chairman David Price (D-NC) of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. We stood up today to draw attention to the implications of HUD illegally withholding billions in aid. As T-HUD Chairman, I will continue to press HUD to release this aid now.”

“More than 2 years after Hurricane Maria destroyed their homes, businesses, and public infrastructure, Americans in Puerto Rico are still without much-needed relief and recovery assistance because of perpetual – and illegal – stonewalling by the Trump administration,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY). “The administration must immediately comply with the law and issue the mitigation notice needed for Puerto Rico to access critical disaster aid.”

“While our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico recover from the effects of devastating storms, the Trump administration continues to illegally withhold critical recovery aid. This is unconscionable and un-American, and I’ll continue fighting alongside my colleagues to stand with Puerto Rico and hold President Trump accountable,” said Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

“It is unconscionable and shameful that as thousands of families live under tarped roofs, or no roofs at all, that HUD continues to drag its feet,” said Congresswoman Clark (D-MA). “They are defying Congress and a legal directive signed by the President to move forward with providing funds to Puerto Rico. This is unacceptable and illegal.”

“While the Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to stall, American citizens in Puerto Rico wait patiently for the aid promised to them some time ago. HUD is refusing to start the process of releasing funding that Congress and the Appropriations Committees have already approved,” said CHC Chairman Castro (D-TX). “Really, this shouldn’t be a political issue. The bottom line is that we must fulfill our responsibilities to the American citizens of Puerto Rico expediently and with the same urgency given to other communities that have experienced natural disasters. The Trump Administration has no legal standing to delay this aid.”

“It has been over two years since Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; destroying homes, businesses and all kinds of public infrastructure in both territories,” said Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI). “Any further delay by HUD to facilitate the CDBG recovery funds that have been obligated to the Virgin Islands and Puerto is not just unacceptable. It defies the letter and intent of laws duly passed by Congress and signed by the President.”

“Puerto Rico is suffering from the disaster that is the lawless presidency of Donald J. Trump,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL). “Congress allocated $42.5 billion in February of 2018, but the island has yet to see most of this money. So, the question is, when is President Trump going to end his personal vendetta against Puerto Rico? These are Americans who face the daily indignations from the administration’s inaction. It’s time President Trump finally do the right thing for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.”

“The Trump Administration is breaking the law by withholding $10.2 billion in aid for its own citizens,” Congresswoman Norma Torres said (D-CA). “The people of Puerto Rico need these funds desperately, and it’s Congress’ role – not the President’s, and not HUD’s – to appropriate them. The funds are not only needed to help rebuild their economy, but their livelihoods. This Administration’s reckless decision is preventing them from moving forward and preparing for the next disaster. It’s time for this President to do the right thing for a change, and provide the aid it is required to under the law.”

“Two years ago, Puerto Rico suffered from two back-to-back hurricanes that caused unprecedented destruction,” said Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ). “Puerto Ricans are trying to recover, and this Administration is playing games with funding intended for the most vulnerable communities. Puerto Ricans deserve better.”

“Congress approved the largest allocation of funds for Puerto Rico, but the recovery process has been a slow one and with many delays in the disbursement of the approved funds,” said Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR). I will continue to advocate and work with the federal agencies in Congress to achieve compliance with the law mandate. I thank Chairman Price for supporting us in what is a priority for me and of vital importance to the citizens of Puerto Rico.”

Timeline of Puerto Rico Community Development Block Grant Funds:

Sept. 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico, causing unimaginable destruction to life and property on the island.

Aid for Puerto Rico was signed into law as part of Bipartisan Budget Act on Feb. 9, 2018.

On June 6, 2019, after more than 15 months of delay, Congress included a provision to force the release of the aid by requiring HUD to publish all CDBG-DR mitigation notices within 90 days, or September 4, 2019.

On Aug. 30, 2019, HUD issues mitigation notices for all grantees except Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands notice is published on Sept. 4.

Oct. 17, 2019, The Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee holds an oversight hearing to press HUD officials for answers. They admit publicly they have ignored the law.

More than 90 days have now passed since HUD knowingly ignored the statutory deadline with no further explanation or concrete expectation for issuing the notice, a necessary step for Puerto Rico to access the aid.

In total, it’s been 664 days since Congress appropriated Puerto Rico aid in Feb. 2018.

Link to the full press conference is here: