Billed to Free Up in Delayed Puerto Rico Storm Aid

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said it would release $ 1.3 billion in aid that Puerto Rico could use to protect it from future climate disasters, and is beginning to remove some of the restrictions spent by the Trump administration Which was to help the island after Hurricane Maria. In 2017.

Administration officials describe it as a first step toward eliminating racial inequality through policies designed to address climate change, saying they planned to ease the limits that the Trump administration has given $ In the morning of 20, the aid was put at $ 4.9 billion, some. Hours before the former president left office.

The reconstruction of Puerto Rico after Maria, which devastated the island more than three years ago, is much slower than recovery in other parts of the country, such as Texas and Florida, also hit by major disasters that year. This is partly because the Department of Housing and Urban Development banned Puerto Rico’s aid funds that, according to current and former officials and policy experts, were not applicable to other recipients.

“The slow pace of Puerto Rico’s recovery has reduced Puerto Rico’s recovery,” said Rosanna Torres, Washington director for the Center for New Economy.

The money is part of the $ 20 billion that Congress provided for recovery after the HUD and for protection from future storms in Puerto Rico. According to federal data, only $ 138 million, or about 0.7 percent, has been spent, a much lower rate than the funding that Congress gave Texas, Florida, and other parts of the United States to rebuild HUD after similar disasters Helped.

The discrepancy at the time reflects an insistence by Trump’s senior officials that Puerto Rico provides more information and documentation to HUD than state governments before funding it, according to HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for grant programs. Will release its spending plans before spending.

“It seemed that it was excessive,” said Mr. Jimont, who left HUD in 2019 and is now a senior consultant for community improvement at Hegarty Consulting. “It is a very difficult process.”

According to Mr. Gimont and two other former senior officials, the True Administration showed reluctance to provide funds to Puerto Rico, who asked not to discuss the matter because they were concerned with doing what their current or future employers would Will bother you

One concern was that the island would struggle to spend such a large amount of money, increasing the likelihood that some of it would go wrong. This concern was more, Puerto Rican officials say.

Kenneth McClintock, the former Puerto Rico secretary of state and Senate president, said that approving construction projects on the island was a slow and bureaucratic process. But the Trump administration too Tagged Puerto Rico as more corrupt He said disbursement of federal funds was delayed compared to other courts.

“Trump believed that Puerto Rico was the most corrupt place in the country,” he said. “We do corruption,” Mr. McClintock said, but he said he does not consider it worse than in other parts of the country.

President Donald J. The HUD secretary under Trump, a spokesman, declined to comment through Ben Carson. A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Concerns about corruption or mismanagement had led to a worsening problem, with Trump’s former officials saying: Three and a half years after Maria, there has been much damage yet.

“The money was appropriated to promote recovery,” Mr. Gimont said. “If you do not spend money, you are not promoting recovery.”

Mr. Biden raised the slow release of Puerto Rico disaster funds as an issue during his presidential campaign and did Vowed to reverse it.

Gov. Pedro R. who was sworn in on 2 January. Peralucci’s office cited questions from the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, stating that the secretary was not immediately available for an interview.

Trump officials complicated the Biden team’s ability to make good on that pledge. On the morning of January 20, inauguration day, Brian Montgomery, who was about to step down as deputy secretary of the HUD, gained access to $ 4.9 billion from Puerto Rico to help harden the island against future storms Approved the request.

But in approving that request, Mr. Montgomery added requirements that would have made it harder for Puerto Rico to spend the money, which allowed the island to undergo a separate approval process for each individual project funded by those dollars Must be forced. On Monday, HUD overturned the verdict, asking Puerto Rico to reapply for $ 4.9 billion so HUD could approve its application without restriction.

In an interview, Mr. Montgomery stated that the HUDs imposed on Puerto Rico were justified by the fact that the island rarely suffers from large-scale disasters and therefore lacked a large amount of experience to help federal states that some states is near.

Mr. Montgomery also stated that the conditions imposed in the January 20 letter to Puerto Rico were not intended to bind the Biden administration. He said the goal was to provide more funding for Puerto Rico, in circumstances when he thought it appropriate to protect public funds.

“Montgomery said,” The Secretary and I felt very strongly to get this money on our watch, as we were working closely with Puerto Rico. “

A spokesman for HUD, Michael Burns, called the agency’s move on Monday an attempt to “reset” its relationship with Puerto Rico. “The action we are taking today will help make the island resilient to future storms and floods,” he said.

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