Trump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria

Two officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) acknowledged during a hearing this week that the agency knowingly stalled sending hurricane relief funding to Puerto Rico after missing a legally required deadline to do so.

HUD’s chief financial officer, Irv Dennis, and David Woll, the department's principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee for a hearing on Thursday.

The officials said that the agency missed a deadline issued by Congress to start a process to help Puerto Rico receive billions in federal housing funds that Congress had allocated after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017.

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“All of us at HUD stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Puerto Rico,” Woll said during the hearing. “At HUD we are committed to the recovery of all Americans whose homes and communities were devastated by natural disasters, and we are steadfast in our stewardship of the funding and trust in us by you in your colleagues in Congress.”

However, the officials’ defense did little to placate Democrats.

“HUD did fail to comply with the law,” said Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceOvernight Energy: 350 facilities skip reporting water pollution | Panel votes to block Trump's 'secret science' rule | Court upholds regulation boosting electric grid storage Committee votes to block Trump's 'secret science' EPA rule 189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation MORE (D-N.C.) said at the hearing. 

HUD was supposed to deliver funding notices to 18 states hit by natural disasters by Sept. 4. It successfully published all the notices except for the one for Puerto Rico. The notice’s publication would have allowed the territory to begin crafting a plan to help manage the disaster relief funds. 

Puerto Rico has received a third of the roughly $43 billion Congress allocated toward hurricane recovery efforts two years after Maria ravaged the island.

“American communities have been waiting far too long for the relief and recovery assistance,” said Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse Democrats push for resuming aid to Palestinians in spending bill House panel approves bill funding WHO, paring back abortion restrictions Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending MORE (D-N.Y.).

HUD officials have previously voiced concerns about potential misuse of funds in explaining why the Puerto Rico funds have not been disbursed.

Woll and Dennis defended the delay again Thursday by echoing President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE and HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonSunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Carson calls for local leaders to 'condemn vandalization of statues,' 'dismantle autonomous zones' Ben Carson to read stories for children at home amid the coronavirus pandemic MORE’s remarks that alleged corruption and financial irregularities produced the delay.

Woll also referenced an audit from HUD’s Office of Inspector General into “Puerto Rico's capacity to manage these funds” and the upcoming appointment of a financial monitor to review the disbursement of the money.