Lawmakers Challenge Trump’s Call to Cut Federal Aid to Puerto Rico
Say Future Aid Shouldn’t be Used for Debt Repayment
Washington, DC – In the wake of President Trump’s statement calling for “no more Puerto Rico relief funds,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and six additional Members of Congress have written the President condemning his comment, saying pulling federal relief aid would have a “catastrophic effect on the Island’s already fragile recovery.”
In the letter, the lawmakers instead suggest that future legislation should preclude disaster relief funds from being used to pay for Puerto Rico’s debt.
“President Trump and Republicans in Congress turned their backs on the American citizens of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and the island is still suffering from their neglect,” Grijalva said. “We need to hold hearings, address the humanitarian crisis and provide every resource we can to help the island rebuild. Instead the president is threatening to pull the little federal relief the island is getting. Nobody wants to see debt relief funds end up in the hands of Wall Street hedge funds and bondholders, but that’s no reason to end aid entirely. Democrats are pushing for a better way that puts the people of Puerto Rico first.”
“The President’s ultimate responsibility is to keep Americans safe during times of disaster and recovery,” said Velázquez. “Certainly, disaster assistance funds shouldn’t be siphoned off to pay hedge funds and Wall Street creditors. However, the answer isn’t to slash assistance to our fellow citizens who are in desperate need, but rather to provide the necessary aid and ensure that it is walled off from creditors.”
“If President Trump were serious about stopping federal relief aid from going to Wall Street, he’d support my and Representative Velázquez's bill to allow Puerto Rico to cancel its debt, or work with Congress to protect federal dollars from vulture funds,” said Warren. “His proposal to cut off aid to the island instead would just worsen his administration’s already catastrophic response to Hurricane Maria.”
The full text of the letter is below.
For a PDF, click here.
November 15, 2018
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our serious concern that your call for “no more Puerto Rico relief funds”, if materialized, would have a catastrophic effect on the Island’s already fragile recovery. We understand your position that no disaster relief funds that have or will be provided to Puerto Rico should be used to repay bond debt. To ensure this never occurs, we should work together to include language in all subsequent Puerto Rico disaster appropriations that such funds cannot be used – directly or indirectly - to pay any of Puerto Rico’s debt nor factored into any calculation of how much funds will be available for debt repayment. However, denying disaster relief funds to American citizens living on the Island is unacceptable.
This letter is not the first time Members of Congress have raised the issue of federal recovery funds potentially going toward Puerto Rico’s debt repayment. Last February, several of us sent a letter to the Puerto Rico Federal Oversight and Management Board (“Oversight Board”) reminding them that Congress intended “100 percent of the funding to solely be used for rebuilding Puerto Rico and to help its residents recover from Hurricane Maria.” In addition, after the Oversight Board approved a five-year Commonwealth fiscal plan (“Fiscal Plan”) that assumed $82 billion in federal hurricane recovery relief, Members cautioned the Oversight Board not to impose any austerity measures on those living on the Island in order to facilitate any generous deals with bondholders.
The Oversight Board has also been on record on the issue. The Fiscal Plan itself projects that the disaster relief funding will be disbursed in the reconstruction effort as a mix of individual assistance, public assistance and the expected cost-share requirements. Moreover, the Oversight Board's Executive Director recently said that none of the funds in the Fiscal Plan would be budgeted for debt payments, but rather to help stimulate the economy.
The job of the recovery of the Island, separate and apart from the work of the Oversight Board, is far from over. The scale of the destruction from Hurricanes Irma and Maria was unprecedented and the government of Puerto Rico has estimated that they will need approximately $134 billion to completely rebuild the devastated island. So far, less than a third of this total has been appropriated.
More than a year later, nearly everyone remaining on the Island “lives with some portion of the emotional and physical trauma that accompanied the storm’s far-reaching devastation and its grueling aftermath: the weeks and months without power, reliable healthcare, basic government services or many of the conveniences and safeguards of modern life to which they were accustomed.”As such, it is premature to stop recovery funds from going to Puerto Rico irrespective of our shared concern regarding payments to bondholders.
The American citizens residing on Puerto Rico continue to need our assistance in their recovery. The federal government needs to both provide the Island with the help that it needs as well as ensure that none of that help is used to repay creditors.
We look forward to working with you for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico.
__________________ __________________ __________________
Raúl M. Grijalva Nydia M. Velázquez Elizabeth Warren
Member of Congress Member of Congress United States Senator
__________________ __________________ __________________
Luis V. Gutiérrez Bennie G. Thompson Peter DeFazio
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
Adriano Espaillat Robert Menendez
Member of Congress United States Senator
Member of Congress