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Policy Summary

On May 6th, President Trump tweeted, “Puerto Rico has been given more money by Congress for Hurricane Disaster Relief, 91 Billion Dollars, than any State in the history of the U.S.” This became one of numerous claims the President made in regard to the aid Puerto Rico was receiving. This shocked many onlookers as thus far there has only been a recorded $11.2 billion spent on aid for the island since devastation arrived with Hurricane Maria and Irma in 2017. In addition, $40.8 billion has been allotted to the issue, although it has been estimated $91 billion is needed for possible liabilities over the next two decades.

In early June, President Trump signed a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill and directly commandeered credit for the aid received by Puerto Rico. On June 6th, the president wrote, “Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers. Help for GA, FL, IA, NE, NC, and CA. Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!” Many critics pointed out the president’s consistent opposition for months to the Disaster Aid Bill, resulting in lengthy delays in getting help to states in need.

Analysis 

So how did the $91 billion estimate originate? Officials claim that the President was referring to an internal Office of Management and Budget figure of possible liabilities over the life of the disaster, as it falls under the 1988 Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The number was a high-end estimate subject to alteration yearly. In other words, the Stafford liability figure is projected at $50 billion in addition to the $41 billion allotted in funding, which equates to a total of $91 billion.

Therefore, it was simply false when the President asserted that Puerto Rico had already received $91 billion. In fact, to date, the island has been appropriated less than half of that, as previously mentioned at $41 billion. Of the total amount, only $11 billion has been used to assist in the Puerto Rico’s recovery since 2017.

However, this issue goes deeper than just figures and projections. Since the initial recovery, just days after the natural disasters that devasted the island territory, President Trump labeled criticisms focusing on the lacking federal recovery effort as “fake news”. He publicly declared Carmen Yulín Cruz, San Juan’s mayor, of being “totally incompetent”, while accusing the Puerto Rican government of trying to swindle hardworking, mainland Americans into paying off the island’s increasing debt. At times it has been unclear if the President and his administration understand that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and that Puerto Ricans are indeed U.S. citizens. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, confirmed this misunderstanding as he described Puerto Rico as “that country.”

Engagement Resources:

  • Project HOPE’s medical team remains on the ground to help those suffering in hard-to-reach communities throughout Puerto Rico. They are accepting donations to assist in their vital work.
  • Puerto Rico & Caribbean Hurricane Relief Fund initially provided relief to survivors in the form of emergency supplies like food, water, and medicine, and is now supporting longer-term assistance to help residents recover and rebuild.
  • All Hands and Hearts arrives early, when a natural disaster strikes, and stay late to address the immediate and long-term needs of affected-communities. They work alongside the local residents and deploy our unique volunteer model to enable direct impact — helping families and communities recover by building safe, resilient schools, homes and other community infrastructure.
  • Direct Relief is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a stated mission to “improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergency situations by mobilizing and providing essential medical resources needed for their care.”
  • Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) is a public charity that promotes opportunities for social and economic development in Puerto Rico mostly focused on promoting the visitor economy and transforming Puerto Rico as a destination for the world.

Photo by unsplash-logoTatiana Rodriguez

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