Congratulations, Puerto Rico! Looks Like You'll Finally Get That Hurricane Maria Aid!

Congratulations, Puerto Rico! Looks Like You'll Finally Get That Hurricane Maria Aid!
Photo by Lorie Shaull, March 2018. Creative Commons license 2.0.

Three years and four months after Hurricane Maria, the Biden administration announced yesterday it was releasing $1.3 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, to help in readying the island for future disasters. In addition, the New York Timesreports, the administration will clear away some last-minute bureaucratic restrictions added by the Trump administration on another $4.9 billion in aid.

Just to remind America why Republicans shouldn't ever be trusted with power again, those administrative roadblocks were added to the Puerto Rican aid package as the Trump people were heading out the door, literally on the morning of Biden's inauguration on January 20.

The actions to eliminate Trump's embuggrance of aid to Puerto Rico were described by Biden administration officials as a first step in fulfilling his promise to make sure action on climate also advances racial injustice. Puerto Rico was certainly the most obvious example of the intersection of Donald Trump's racism, his indifference to climate change, and his overall emphasis on governing as trolling, so good on Team Biden.

The Times notes that unlike other places hit by hurricanes in 2017, like Texas and Florida, Puerto Rico's reconstruction has been far slower, for some reason. Oh! Here it is!

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.

That's only reasonable, of course, because while Texas and Florida both have Republican governors and loads of Republican voters, Puerto Rico is out in the middle of a lot of water and also can't even vote for presidents. Besides, that mean mayor of San Juan said such nasty things about the Great Man.

As you may recall, it took until 2019 for Congress to pass a big aid package for Puerto Rico and other places hit by disasters going back to the summer of 2017, largely because Trump kept insisting the island didn't deserve a dollar more than the initial aid sent right after the hurricane. Once it passed, though, the Department of Housing and Urban Development kept refusing to release the funds, because Trump said, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson therefore agreed, that Puerto Rico was so corrupt that every penny needed to be watched very closely, and maybe the best way to keep the backwards islanders from misusing the relief aid was to never release it at all.

Those delays just continued, and as the Times notes, out of the $20 billion in HUD grants Congress approved for Puerto Rico to rebuild and to improve resiliency for future storms,

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.

All told, the Miami Heraldreports, Congress approved some $66 billion in disaster aid, but less than a third of that, about $17.3 billion, has actually made it to the island, through a whole bunch of different agencies, the biggest chunks going through HUD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Washington Postnotes that FEMA disbursed some $8 billion immediately after the hurricane. And all the while, Trump just plain lied, claiming that Puerto Rico had received over $90 billion.

Stan Gimont, HUD's former deputy assistant secretary for grant programs, told the Times that HUD's accounting requirements for releasing funds to Puerto Rico made getting aid out "a really onerous process," because the territory had to provide far more documentation than required for the states. The Times won't call it racism, so we will: It was racist that higher-ups in the Trump administration were worried Puerto Rican officials wouldn't be able to spend large appropriations "properly," and had constant worries about corruption — like even worse than on the US mainland, where no-bid WALL funds happened to end up going to big GOP donors and to contractors who sang Trump's praises on Fox News.

Gimont, who left the administration in 2019 and seems to have a real talent for seeing deep truths, pointed out there's a reason Puerto Rico's rebuilding is going so slowly:

"The money was appropriated to promote recovery," Mr. Gimont said. "If you don't spend the money, you're sure not promoting the recovery."

The real scoop in the Times story, however, is the brazen fuckery of departing HUD Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery, who took care of one last bit of paperwork the morning of January 20, presumably while finding office supplies to take home with him. Montgomery signed off on a request to release $4.9 billion to help Puerto Rico prepare for future disasters, but added a few provisions making it harder to actually spend any of the money. The restrictions "would have forced the island to go through a separate approval process for each individual project funded by those dollars." Why yes, it does get even more patronizing:

In an interview, Mr. Montgomery said the conditions that HUD 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.

Good thinking. Without proper oversight, maybe the islanders would have wasted all that money on brightly colored fabrics and beads to be used in quaint native dances to appease the storm gods.

Montgomery also was very proud of himself, because his last-minute "help" ensured that more money might eventually get to Puerto Rico, but all responsible-like, telling the Times, "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."

Yesterday, the Biden administration advised Puerto Rico to simply resubmit its application for the funds so the new application could be approved quickly and without all the extra strings attached. HUD spokesperson Michael Burns said the goal was to effect a "reset" of the federal relationship with the island. Burns didn't specifically promise Joe Biden would never toss paper towels into a crowd there or brag about being the island's "best friend," but he probably didn't have to.

[NYT / WaPo / Miami Herald / Photo by Lorie Shaull (cropped), Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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