Trump approves Puerto Rico emergency declaration


President Trump on Tuesday approved federal emergency funding for Puerto Rico after a series of earthquakes that hit the island over the past 10 days, damaging homes and infrastructure.

The White House in a statement Wednesday announced it ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide equipment and resources to respond to the earthquakes.

Starting Dec. 28, Puerto Rico was hit by a series of small earthquakes that intensified, culminating in a tremor measuring 6.0 magnitude on the Richter scale early Tuesday, followed by a series of aftershocks.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency, as did several mayors of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipios.

And the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board — a congressionally mandated office that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances — announced Tuesday it had authorized the disbursement of $260 million of the territory’s emergency fund to deal with the earthquake.

Trump was briefed on the earthquakes, including Tuesday’s bigger tremor, according to White House spokesman Judd Deere.

“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 wrote in an email Tuesday.

The FEMA authorization will allow the emergency agency to provide direct federal assistance to the tune of 75 percent of costs, the rest falling on the island.

It’s common practice for FEMA to share its assistance costs with state and local governments; cost share is determined by several factors, including the local government’s capacity to pay and the severity of the disaster.

After 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island amid an internal financial crisis, FEMA upped its share to 90 percent of costs in most emergency projects, and 100 percent in select strategic projects.

But Trump’s authorization also comes as the administration has been slow to release long-term Hurricane Maria reconstruction funds managed by other federal agencies, angering Puerto Ricans and congressional leaders who approved said funds.

Notably, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is more than four months past a deadline to publish a notice on how it plans to distribute more than $8 billion in allocated funds.

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) joined with both of Florida Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott Tuesday to pen a letter asking Trump to order federal agencies — FEMA and HUD among them — to respond to the new crisis on the island.

“The localities that are grappling with the effects of the earth tremors are smaller municipalities that do not have the necessary resources to handle the situation alone, and the Puerto Rico local agencies are taxed to their limits by their fiscal condition and the continuing larger recovery effort,” wrote the lawmakers.

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