Senate Dems press White House for update on Puerto Rico recovery response

Senate Democrats are demanding an update from the Trump administration on its efforts to help Puerto Rico’s recovery from 2017 hurricanes that ravaged the territory and killed roughly 3,000 people.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-N.Y.) and Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Vt.) sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyDick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE, acting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonCarson's affordable housing idea drawing undue flak Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules it says are too lax MORE on Tuesday blaming the administration for failing to supply the island with adequate supplies in a timely manner. 

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“The lack of leadership and coordination, combined with delays in meeting the basic needs of the island, more than 18 months after receiving a presidential disaster declaration, has left far too many children and elderly citizens in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, families in severely damaged homes and communities without adequate infrastructure to sustain a decent quality of life,” they wrote. 

“This extraordinary disaster requires a commensurate extraordinary response. We have a responsibility to come to the aid of fellow U.S. citizens in times of need, and this is certainly one of those times. We ask for a detailed response providing an update on the status of these issues and the projected timeframe for their final resolution be provided without delay. Please respond by April 5, 2019.” 

Congress appropriated billions of dollars last year to help Puerto Rico recoup from the damage of hurricanes Irma and Maria, though the senators say much of it remains in the Treasury Department due to the government’s “inaction.”

“It has also come to our attention that several issues have reached a critical point with FEMA that are hindering the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as well. FEMA needs to work with the territories to develop ways to expedite approvals and obligations of funding, especially for priority projects,” Schumer and Leahy said. 

“As the territories continue to recover, it is crucial that FEMA address these issues and move forward with a stronger sense of urgency and consideration for the unique issues that they face. A recovery of this scale requires consistency, transparency, and constant coordination with territory officials.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D), a leading critic of the White House’s response to the storm, said that the federal disbursement of FEMA funds, which is usually overseen by individual states, has slowed down the territory’s recovery.

“[The Federal Emergency Management Agency] has been slow, they've put obstacles in Puerto Rico that they haven't placed anywhere else in the United States, and it has delayed our recovery significantly,” he told The Hill last month. 

“The result is everything is slower, so much so that if you compare today after 16 months of the hurricane in Puerto Rico and 16 months after Katrina, they had over 9,500 projects moving forward in Louisiana, whereas you only have 44 in Puerto Rico.” 

Rosselló has also claimed Trump has refused to meet with him directly to discuss hurricane relief efforts. 

Puerto Rico has struggled to recover in particular from Hurricane Maria, a category-five storm that struck shortly after the island faced the worst of a financial crisis and declared a bankruptcy-like moratorium on debt payments.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump has asked his top aides for ways to limit federal funding to the territory. 

"He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island," a senior administration official told the Post.