Watchdog blames Puerto Rico hurricane relief delays on Trump-era bureaucracy

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Officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of the Inspector General are blaming the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under former President Trump for delays that held up desperately needed relief aid to Puerto Rico following two devastating hurricanes in 2017.

In a report released Thursday, HUD’s top watchdog detailed how OMB officials required an unprecedented interagency review process for any disaster relief funds that were disbursed to the island. In addition, the agency demanded other concessions from Puerto Rico’s government that hampered access to relief funds, according to the Post, including a suspension of its minimum wage law for employees of federal contractors.

The numerous demands caused friction between the agencies, the newspaper noted, leading former HUD Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery to express HUD’s “mounting concerns and frustrations” to then-acting OMB Director Russell Vought about “HUD’s inability to make progress” due to OMB regulations.

Those regulations amounted to holding disaster relief funds “hostage” as millions of people on the island went without power or reliable drinking water for months, Montgomery added, according to the report.

Request for comment from HUD and OMB on the report were not immediately returned. Former top HUD officials, including ex-Secretary Ben Carson, refused to comply with the investigation, according to The Washington Post.

The HUD’s new secretary, Marcia Fudge, praised President Biden for removing several Trump-era restrictions on Puerto Rico relief aid in a statement to the Post.

“Since its first days, the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized action to enable stronger recovery for Puerto Rico,” Fudge said.

The Biden administration, she added, would “unlock access to funds Puerto Rico needs to recover from past disasters and build resilience to future storms, while ensuring transparency and accountability” for federal funding. 

–Updated at 12:00 p.m.

Tags Ben Carson Donald Trump Joe Biden Marcia Fudge

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