[News] Trump Administration Tells Puerto Rico It’s Too Rich for Aid Money

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 18 16:44:17 EST 2018


  Trump Administration Tells Puerto Rico It’s Too Rich for Aid Money

David Dayen <https://theintercept.com/staff/davidd/>- January 18 2018

_Means testing has_ now come to disaster aid — and it only applies to 
Puerto Rico.

When Congress passed a $36.5 billion disaster relief bill to bolster 
rebuilding efforts in several wildfire and hurricane-damaged areas in 
October, it shortchanged Puerto Rico, giving it a $4.9 billion loan 
<https://theintercept.com/2017/10/11/puerto-rico-relief-bill-cancels-16-billion-in-debt-but-not-for-puerto-rico/> instead 
of the grant that other areas received. Now, it appears the debt- and 
hurricane-ravaged island won’t even get that money.

First reported in El Nuevo Dia 
Puerto Rico’s daily newspaper, the Federal Emergency Management Agency 
and the Treasury Department informed the Puerto Rican government on 
January 9 that they will not disburse the loan 
the Community Disaster Loans Program, after finding that Puerto Rico had 
a cash balance on December 29 of last year of $1.7 billion for ongoing 
operations. The letter also cited $6.875 billion scattered in various 
local government accounts. Since the loan was intended to fill in a gap 
in day-to-day funding, FEMA determined Puerto Rico does not need the 
money at this time.

“Funds will be provided through the CDL Program when the Commonwealth’s 
central cash balance decreases to a certain level,” wrote FEMA official 
Alex Amparo and Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Gary Grippo. They 
didn’t specify that level but added that municipalities could also apply 
for loans.

There’s no question that the Puerto Rican government has lacked fiscal 
transparency. But the very fact that Puerto Rico must receive assistance 
as loans rather than grants, unlike any other entity receiving disaster 
assistance, is bad enough. That the island is being treated like a 
welfare recipient found to have too much money in its bank account takes 
it to another level. Among U.S. territories suffering from catastrophe, 
only Puerto Rico is being means-tested.

“Puerto Rican working families continue to be treated as second-class 
citizens by the Trump administration and Congress,” said Héctor 
Figueroa, president of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 
32BJ, in a statement. “Despite being unable to carry out many vital 
functions, Puerto Rico is deemed by these federal agencies as not poor 
enough to qualify for emergency loans.”

The Puerto Rican government has asserted that its state-run power and 
sewer companies will exhaust funding this month. Nearly half of the 
island’s citizens remain without power. With FEMA and the Treasury 
refusing to release government-approved loans, it’ll be difficult for 
the Puerto Rican government to float money to the power and sewer companies.

The congressional assistance had to be tied to a specific purpose, like 
ongoing day-to-day management, only because it was offered as a loan. 
The October disaster relief bill also allocated $13.58 billion to FEMA’s 
regular disaster relief fund, but Puerto Rico is competing for that 
money against Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which 
all experienced damage in violent summer hurricanes.

A more recent $81 billion disaster relief bill 
by the House in December also split its aid between Florida, Texas, 
Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and California, for the recent 
wildfires. In the debate over the bill, Puerto Rico was denied 
$4.6 billion to boost its Medicaid program, which has long suffered from 
inequities, receiving less in matching funds than U.S. states. The bill 
has languished in the Senate 
where Democrats want the Medicaid funding included.

Puerto Rican officials have said Medicaid funding will run out early 
this year without the increased funding. Though this would seem to fit 
the definition of ongoing operations covered in the CDL program, FEMA 
and the Treasury did not reference Medicaid in their letter.

Puerto Rico also took a hit from 
the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Republican overhaul of the tax code, 
which treats manufacturing operations on the island like they’re in a 
foreign country, subject to a large export tax. Democrats want that 
rolled back in the next disaster supplemental as well. As The Intercept 
has reported, utility workers restoring power in Puerto Rico have 
alleged that the Army Corps of Engineers is hoarding supplies 
could be used in the reconstruction effort. So FEMA and the Treasury’s 
decision fits with a recent history of smacking Puerto Rico while it’s down.

“Our federal government is telling 3.3 million Puerto Ricans that 
exercising its colonial power is more important than the survival of 
Puerto Rico’s people,” Figueroa of SEIU said.

Top photo: A local resident cleans debris near his damaged home in an 
area without electricity on Oct. 15, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. 
Puerto Rico is suffering shortages of food and water in many areas and 
only 15 percent of grid electricity has been restored. Puerto Rico 
experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas, and 
water grid, as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 
hurricane, swept through.

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