Trump delayed $20bn in aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, report finds
The Trump administration delayed more than $20bn in hurricane relief aid for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, according to a report by the housing department’s office of the inspector General. The efforts to deliver recovery funding to the island were “unnecessarily delayed by bureaucratic obstacles”, 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 hurdles was the requirement imposed by the Office of Management and Budget, which established an interagency review before grant approvals, according to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The process, which was never before required for allocating disaster funds, prevented Hud from publishing its draft notice of funding by the target date.
The investigators were unable to determine why the extra layer of review was required due “denials of access and refusals to cooperate”, according to the report.
The inspector general’s office conducted 31 interviews of 20 current and former Hud officials and two now-former Puerto Rico department of housing senior officials to write the report. However, investigators did not have access to the former HUD secretary Ben Carson and other political officials. The investigators were also denied or delayed access to Hud information on several occasions.
The report found that Hud’s review and approval of their funding action plan for Puerto Rico was delayed due to the 2018-2019 government shutdown.
“Staffing shortages due to the shutdown and miscommunications between HUD and the Puerto Rico Department of Housing pertaining to the grantee’s bank information delayed PRDOH’s ability to access grant funds until several days after the shutdown ended,” reads the document.
The office of the inspector general investigation also said that both the former Hud secretary and former Hud assistant secretary Brian Montgomery expressed “mounting concerns and frustrations” to the then OMB director, Russell Vought, about Hud’s “inability” to expedite the release of funds.
The report was conducted after a request from representatives Nydia Velázquez, Bennie Thompson, and Raúl Grijalva to investigate several allegations that had been reported in a January 2019 Washington Post article related to the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) funds appropriated 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 Representatives Joaquín Castro, Darren Soto, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, James P McGovern, Raúl Grijvala, and José Serrano, asking the office to conduct an inquiry into whether delays in Hud’s release of the disaster-recovery funds for Puerto Rico violated the Impoundment Control Act of 1974.
On Monday, Hud removed restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on access to $8.2bn in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation. The agency stalled the release of the disaster relief aid in 2019 and imposed additional restrictions on how the island could access the funds. The agency cited corruption and financial mismanagement concerns for the blocks.
Hurricane Maria hit hundreds of thousands of homes on 20 September 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 the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. A George Washington University suggests more than 2,000 died due to the hurricane.
On Wednesday, a group of Puerto Rican scientists said they will begin to conduct verbal autopsies or surveys with relatives, friends and other acquaintances of the fatal victims of the hurricane. The study aims to elaborate on the causes and factors that contributed to the deaths.
The study is a collaboration between the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health and George Washington University, which were hired by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and will conduct the report as part of an order by the US Congress.
“Some people might have died instantly due to drowning, landslides or collapses, but others might have died days, weeks or months later due to socio-environmental and infrastructure factors, such as the lack of water or electricity, oxygen or medicines,” Pablo Méndez Lázaro, associate professor of the department of environmental health at the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health, told a local news outlet.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling associates he had no idea his Justice Department seized phone records of two top Democratic congressional critics of then-President Donald Trump. In the hours since The New York Times broke the news on Thursday that prosecutors subpoenaed Apple metadata from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA), former Attorney General Sessions has privately told people that he wasn’t aware of, nor was he briefed on, the reported data seizures while he led the Trump DOJ. This week’s revelations were a surprise to him, according to a source familiar with the matter, and another person close to Sessions.
The US justice department’s internal watchdog launched an investigation on Friday after revelations that former president Donald Trump’s administration secretly seized phone data from at least two House Democrats as part of an aggressive leaks inquiry related to the Russia investigation into Trump’s conduct.
Donald Trump called Joe Biden a “mental retard” during the 2020 election, a new book says, but was reluctant to attack him too strongly for fear the Democrats would replace him with Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama. Biden went on to beat Trump by more than 7m in the popular vote and by 306-232 in the electoral college, a result Trump deemed a landslide when it was in his favor against Clinton in 2016.
The deadly insurrection at the US Capitol was “planned in plain sight” but intelligence failures left police officers exposed to a violent mob of Trump supporters, a Senate investigation has found. The Capitol police intelligence division had been gathering online data since December about plots to storm the building on 6 January, including messages such as: “Bring guns. It’s now or never.” But a combination of bad communications, poor planning, faulty equipment and lack of leadership meant the warnings went unheeded, allowing the insurrectionists to overrun the Capitol and disrupt certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Five people died.