Puerto Rico congresswoman questions Trump about recovery funds at risk if he declares emergency
SAN JUAN – In a letter to President Trump, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives, Jenniffer González Colón, requested that the White House let Puerto Rico know the fate of previously approved disaster recovery funds for the island.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 includes more than $2.5 billion allocated for six Flood Risk Management Construction projects in Puerto Rico.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that Trump would sign a government funding bill that does not include the full $5.7 billion he requested to extend the physical barrier with Mexico but would take “other executive action, including a national emergency,” to claw back recovery funds for the building effort.
The disaster recovery funds approved for the island may be at stake because the president would have access to funds that have not been obligated, or connected to already signed contracts.
“I write to express my profound concern by repeated news reports that suggest up to $2.5 billion in U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reconstruction funds for Puerto Rico may be redirected to secure the southern border.
As you are keenly aware from your visit to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and through the recovery assistance that you have authorized, the territory was devastated by these disasters. The most recent damage estimates exceed $139 billion.
After your major disaster declaration, Congress passed disaster supplemental appropriations to aid people and communities in need. Following months of initial recovery and lifesaving efforts, Puerto Ricans and those dedicated to the resurgence of the island have begun the rebuilding phase of recovery.
The funds appropriated by Congress under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-123) included a package of $17.4 billion to the USACE for disaster recovery across the nation, out of which more than $2.5 billion were allocated for 6 major Flood Risk Management Construction projects across Puerto Rico. Seventeen months after the impact of Hurricane Maria, these projects remain critical for the recovery and economic resurgence of the people of Puerto Rico.
The idea that these projects, essential to the recovery of some of the most disadvantaged communities of American citizens, are being looked at as sources of funding for other projects that the new congressional leadership is unwilling to fully fund, creates extreme anxiety not only in the Puerto Rican community in the island and mainland but also in the various states where such projects were allocated for disaster recovery and mitigation. It feeds a negative narrative about your Administration that has been and will be used to deride all the effort previously carried out.
It is essential that the White House put forth a firm statement as to what can the people of Puerto Rico expect regarding their future recovery effort. You must come forth as the strongest advocate for preserving the funding of these works and put an end to these rumors.
I understand the importance of securing our southern border, an effort which I have publicly supported. Puerto Rico, America’s Southernmost border and where the United States becomes a Caribbean nation, also must tackle with border issues. Any loss of grants to tackle infrastructure problems, aggravates our capacity to deal with other problems, including our border-related issues, including drug interdiction. Therefore, I request that you maintain your commitment to provide disaster funds for designated projects in Puerto Rico.”