U.S. Rep. Velázquez, Sen. Schumer Demand HUD Meeting on Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN — Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led more than 40 members of Congress in calling for a meeting with U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, “in light of the agency’s ongoing refusal” to release approved disaster relief funds.
The letter notes that following earthquakes that struck Puerto Rico, the “Island needs all the help it can get. However, HUD has refused to release funds that Congress approved as early as 2018” in response to Hurricane Maria.
Members of Congress have previously urged the department to release the $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) that were appropriated in June. In October, when the HUD secretary testified before the Financial Services Committee, Velázquez also asked him why his agency had not released the funding.
“When Ben Carson testified, he told me they had withheld funds from Puerto Rico out of ‘common sense,’” noted Velázquez. “Not only does it defy common sense to withhold these overdue funds now, when the Island just suffered an earthquake, but doing so is immoral and illegal.”
In June, President Trump enacted legislation that required HUD to issue federal guidance for the disbursement of the recovery funds by Sept. 4. In December, a Velázquez press release adds, Congress included in its end-of-year spending package a requirement that HUD “hold off on a Chief Financial Officer reorganization, one of the secretary’s top priorities, until steps are taken to release the recovery funds” for Puerto Rico.
“We don’t know yet whether additional funds will be needed to help Puerto Rico recover from these recent earthquakes, but we know that withholding previously approved resources following this latest catastrophe is simply inexcusable,” Velázquez said.
“We have repeatedly implored Secretary Carson to follow the law, do right by Puerto Rico and release the assistance our fellow citizens are legally due,” Velázquez said in a release Tuesday. “We’ve written him multiple times and still have not received a satisfactory answer on when Puerto Rico will receive this aid. To this day, HUD remains in violation of the law, blocking the people of Puerto Rico from getting the help that Congress intended. That’s why, today, we’re demanding Secretary Carson meet with us, so we can impress on him the need to get this money in the pipeline and help the people of Puerto Rico recover.”
“The Trump administration has repeatedly neglected our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico when they needed us the most – first after devastating hurricanes struck the island and now in the wake of these destructive earthquakes,” Schumer said. “If Secretary Carson won’t respond to our written questions, then he must meet with us face-to-face to answer for his decision to continue to unlawfully withhold congressionally appropriated aid for over a year and compound the perilous situation now facing our fellow citizens. There is no legitimate rationale for these critical funds to continue to be withheld and we will demand that Secretary Carson immediately move to release the aid that will help hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
Several lawmakers wrote Carson last week, demanding the agency make available the previously passed Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funds.
Tuesday’s letter was signed by 38 representatives and three senators.
The full text of the letter follows:
January 13, 2020
The Honorable Dr. Ben Carson
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20410
Dear Secretary Carson:
Some of us wrote to you last Tuesday, January 7th, demanding the immediate and urgent publication of a Federal Register Notice (FRN) detailing the administrative requirements for the disbursement of the $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) appropriated in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (PL 115-123). For days now, thousands of Puerto Rican families are sleeping and living in outside tents because they are too afraid to sleep inside their houses or unsecured refuges due to last week’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake and the aftershocks that followed.
It has been more than two years since Hurricane Maria and Irma made landfall on the island. However, Puerto Rico has not been able to move forward with reconstruction of the island and provide adequate and secure housing for its residents because the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has illegally withheld the funds that Congress appropriated for these purposes.
Due to the new emergency at hand and the urgency of the situation, we are officially requesting an in-person meeting. It is your responsibility as Secretary of HUD to provide members of Congress an explanation as to why your Department has chosen to violate the law by withholding these critical resources. Puerto Ricans have waited too long. Members of Congress have given HUD more than enough time and HUD has disregarded the explicit deadlines established by law to publish the FRN. It is time we are provided with real answers and a definite date for the disbursement of the CDBG-DR funds for the island.
Congresswoman Velázquez will make the accommodations necessary to set up this meeting with the members. Please provide us with your availability to meet as soon as possible.
Nydia M. Velٔázquez
Sylvia R. Garcia
Yvette D. Clarke
Eleanor Holmes Norton
J. Luis Correa
Danny K. Davis
Joseph P. Kennedy III
José E. Serrano
Alcee L. Hastings
James P. McGovern
Ben Ray Luján
Jesús G. “Chuy” García
Brendan F. Boyle
John B. Larson
Rosa L. DeLauro
Sanford D. Bishop
Bill Pacrell, Jr.