The Trump administration delayed more than $ 20 billion in emergency aid for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General.
Efforts to deliver recovery funds to the island were “unnecessarily delayed by bureaucratic hurdles,” according to the 46-page report. The hurricane, which hit the island in 2017, killed thousands of people and left thousands more without electricity or water for months.
One of the main obstacles was the requirement imposed by the Administrative Budget Office, which established an interagency review before approval of the grants, according to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The process, never before required for the allocation of disaster funds, prevented HUD from publishing its draft funding notification by the due date.
Investigators were unable to determine why the additional layer of review was required due to “denials of access and refusals to cooperate,” according to the report.
The Office conducted 31 interviews with 20 current and former HUD officials and two now former senior officials of the Puerto Rico Department of Housing to draft the report. However, investigators did not have access to former HUD Secretary Ben Carson or other political officials. Investigators were also denied or delayed information from HUD on several occasions.
The report found that HUD’s review and approval of its funding action plan for Puerto Rico was delayed due to the 2018-2019 government shutdown.
“Staff shortages due to the closure and poor communications between HUD and the Puerto Rico Department of Housing regarding the grantee’s banking information delayed the ability of PRDOH to access grant funds until several days after the grant ended. closing, ”the document reads.
The Office of the Inspector General’s investigation also said that both former HUD Secretary and former HUD Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery expressed “growing concerns and frustrations” to then-OMB Director Russell Vought about HUD’s “inability”. to accelerate the release of funds.
The report was made following a request from Representatives Nydia Velázquez, Bennie Thompson, and Raul Grijalva to investigate various allegations that had been reported in a January 2019 Washington Post article relating to funds allocated from the Grant Disaster Recovery Program. Block for Community Development (CDBG-DR). for Puerto Rico.
In February 2020, the Office of the Inspector General received a request from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Bernie Sanders, and Chris Van Hollen, and from Representatives Joaquin Castro, Darren Soto, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, James P McGovern , Raul Grijvala, and José Serrano, asking the Office to conduct an investigation into whether the delays in the release of disaster recovery funds for Puerto Rico by HUD violated the Seizure Control Act of 1974.
On Monday, HUD removed restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on access to $ 8.2 billion in Block Grant Mitigation for Community Development. The agency halted the launch of disaster relief aid in 2019 and imposed additional restrictions on how the island could access the funds The agency cited concerns of corruption and financial mismanagement for the blocks.
Hurricane Maria struck hundreds of thousands of homes on September 20, 2017, and many were still living under blue tarps three years later.
More than 5,000 people died in Puerto Rico in 2017 due to the hurricane, according to a study by Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health. A George Washington University suggests that more than 2,000 died from the hurricane.
On Wednesday, a group of Puerto Rican scientists said they will begin conducting verbal autopsies or surveys with family, friends and other acquaintances of the fatal victims of the hurricane. The study aims to delve into the causes and factors that contributed to the deaths.
The study is a collaboration between the Graduate School of Public Health of the University of Puerto Rico and George Washington University, which were contracted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and will carry out the report as part of an order of the Congress of the States United.
“Some people may have died instantly from drowning, landslides or landslides, but others may have died days, weeks or months later due to socio-environmental and infrastructure factors, such as lack of water or electricity, oxygen or medicine”, Pablo. Méndez Lázaro, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health of the Graduate School of Public Health of the University of Puerto Rico, told a local news outlet.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism