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 PriceNorth Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats Trump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria DeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief 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 LoweyOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel Trump signs short-term spending bill to avert shutdown 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 TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE and HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHarris, Waters release 0 billion affordable housing bill NY attorney general to investigate alleged Long Island housing discrimination Ben Carson accuses Maxine Waters of 'shamelessness,' hypocrisy on homelessness 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.