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After Quakes, Lawmakers Push HUD on Previous Puerto Rico Aid

After Quakes, Lawmakers Push HUD on Previous Puerto Rico Aid
January 7, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC -- With earthquakes causing significant physical damage to Puerto Rico and widespread power outages, Members of Congress today wrote the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Ben Carson, urging the agency to release previously approved funds that Congress provided in response to Hurricanes Irma and 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, the President signed into law legislation that required HUD to issue federal guidance for the disbursement of the recovery funds by September 4th.  Further, in December, 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 added.  “Today, we are demanding that HUD follow the law and provide Puerto Rico with the assistance they were previously allocated.”

In addition to Velázquez, the letter is signed by: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. David Price (D-NC). 

The full text of the letter is below and a .pdf is online here.

January 8, 2020

The Honorable Dr. Ben Carson

Secretary

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

451 7th Street, SW

Washington, D.C. 20410

Dear Secretary Carson:

At 4:24 am this morning, a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico. Following the quake, a series of aftershocks have occurred.  The southwest part of the island has been severely affected by these events. As of 1:00 pm there is one registered fatality and reports of dozens of destroyed houses.[1] Some government buildings have also been affected and a high school collapsed. Hundreds of small earthquakes have been rattling nerves on the island since December 28, 2019 as scientists described the island being “squeezed” between the North America and Caribbean tectonic plates along three different fault lines. [2] Dr. José Molinelli Freytes, a Puerto Rican geomorphologist, stated this morning that more aftershocks are likely to occur and may be potentially stronger than 6.0 magnitude.

Puerto Rico continues to rebuild following Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and must now confront the destruction brought by yet another natural disaster. Compounding these problems, the island still has not received the funds appropriated by Congress for the reconstruction of the island. As such, we write again to demand 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 for mitigation projects in Puerto Rico. 

This request is long overdue, especially since this is not the first time that Members of Congress express concerns over HUD’s mismanagement of the FRN. Last August, nearly 30 Members pushed for the FRN’s publication to mitigate the impact of future hurricanes. [3] Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) continued inaction puts at risk the lives of millions of American citizens.  Nearly two years after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (PL 115-123), [4] it is unconscionable that HUD has failed to publish the FRN to disburse the CDBG-DR funds needed to help mitigate the potential effects of future disasters in Puerto Rico.[5]

In June, after more than 15 months of delay, the President signed into law supplemental appropriations legislation (P.L. 116-20) that required HUD to issue the FRN within 90 days, or by September 4th.  HUD’s failure to do so is a violation of the law. With the looming threats of more earthquakes and aftershocks occurring on the island, HUD must take swift action to finally disburse $8.3 billion in CDBG-DR funds allocated for Puerto Rico.

Given the time sensitive nature of this request, please respond to this letter no later than Friday, January 10, 2020.

Sincerely,

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