HUD acknowledges recent shutdown slowed pace of recovery aid to Puerto Rico

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) acknowledged in a letter to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenO'Rourke faces pressure from left on 'Medicare for all' O'Rourke says he won't use 'f-word' on campaign trail O'Rourke not planning, but not ruling out big fundraisers MORE (D-Mass) made public Thursday that the recent partial government shutdown slowed the agency's efforts to provide aid to Puerto Rico as it recovers from Hurricane Maria.

The letter, dated Feb. 11, stated that the “recent lapse in appropriations did impact the pace of the Department’s work,” adding that HUD’s efforts to assist Puerto Rico are ongoing.

“Secretary Carson and the entire Department remain committed to working with Puerto Rico to meaningfully aid its long-term recovery," Len Wolfson, assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, penned in the letter to Warren.

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Wolfson said HUD had provided the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, known as Vivienda, with access to $1.5 billion in disaster recovery funding. The agency made its first withdrawal of those funds on Feb. 8, HUD said, roughly two weeks after the government reopened.

In the time since HUD staffers returned to work on Jan. 28, the department has approved minor modifications in Vivienda’s disaster recovery plan and provided responses to the Puerto Rican agency on a "range of policy issues," Wolfson said.

The department additionally is reviewing Vivienda’s request for $8.2 billion, as well as requests from the U.S. Virgin Islands, California and Missouri, among others.

The update came in response to a letter Warren wrote last month amid reports that a top HUD official resigned from her post, in part, because of the Trump administration's efforts to block disaster recovery funding for Puerto Rico.

"Hurricanes Maria and Irma killed nearly 3,000 people—maybe more—and devastated Puerto Rico's infrastructure," Warren said in a statement Thursday. "HUD's admission that the government shutdown delayed disaster relief funding for over a month is just the latest example of the Trump administration's shameful mishandling of disaster recovery in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States."

Puerto Rican officials have adopted a government-commissioned report's findings that nearly 3,000 people died in the six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. 

The Trump administration faced significant criticism for its response to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the storm.

Local officials and Democrats have insisted that the federal government was slow to respond, delaying the rebuilding process and leading to additional deaths. Trump further inflamed tensions when he claimed the death toll had been inflated.

Trump must sign a funding bill by the end of the day on Friday to avert a second government shutdown this year.