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Top Democrat to Trump: Release unused Maria recovery funds to PR after deadly earthquakes

Top Democrat to Trump: Release unused Maria recovery funds to PR after deadly earthquakes
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is calling on the White House to release unused disaster recovery funds from Hurricane Maria to aid Puerto Rico in the wake of recent earthquakes. 

Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Tuesday that the island is still recovering from the 2017 hurricane, which he blamed in part due to the Trump administration’s “indifference and incompetence.” 

The chairman urged the administration to disburse unused Maria funding and prepare to release earthquake disaster aid without delay as the island recovers from a series of earthquakes, the most recent of which reportedly hit the island Tuesday morning.

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“The residents of Puerto Rico have repeatedly shown strength and resiliency in the face of tragedy, but those are no substitute for adequate government assistance,” Grijalva said in a statement. 

“The Trump administration’s indifference and incompetence have already cost residents of Puerto Rico their lives and their livelihoods, and continuing that pattern now is completely unacceptable,” he added. “When Congress appropriates disaster recovery funds, they need to be used wisely as soon as possible. I urge this administration to remember that lives are at stake and the public is watching.”

In response to Grijalva’s call for the release of the unused Maria aid, a senior administration official told The Hill the president “has made clear that releasing billions of dollars without proper accountability is not going to happen.”

“Puerto Rico has received billions of dollars in relief from U.S. taxpayers. We are working with HUD to release the second tranche of funds while ensuring that none of the money is subject to waste, fraud, or abuse,” the official added. “Helping Puerto Rico while safeguarding taxpayer dollars is a top priority.”

Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president had been briefed on the earthquakes. 

“Administration officials, including FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, have been in touch with the governor and her team today, and we will continue to monitor the effects and coordinate with Puerto Rico officials,” Deere said. 

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A White House spokesperson was not immediately available to comment in response to Grijalva’s call for the release of unused Maria recovery funds. 

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit Puerto Rico early Tuesday morning, killing at least one person and causing structural damage and power outages across the island, NBC reports. Tuesday’s earthquake came after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the island early Monday morning. 

A series of earthquakes reportedly began around Dec. 28, ranging in magnitude. 

"We've never been exposed to this kind of emergency in 102 years,” Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vásquez said at a press conference Tuesday morning, according to NBC. 

Updated at 3:55 p.m.