Two days ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved the released of $744 million in Community Development Block Grants Mitigation funds (CDBG-Mitigation) for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But in the notice allocating the disaster aid, the agency didn’t include Puerto Rico, nor did it explain the omission.
A day after HUD allocated the money, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Development David E. Price announced it would hold an oversight hearing in the coming weeks to address the issue and CDBG-DR program administration.
“Puerto Rico lost nearly 3,000 Americans after one of the most horrific storms in our nation’s history. The people of Puerto Rico deserve not only our empathy but our collective efforts to ensure a strong recovery and prevent this human suffering from occurring again. HUD’s failure to adhere to the law and provide disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico is yet another example of this Administration’s disdain for Congress’ constitutional power of the purse,” Price told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL in a written statement.
“The Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing to examine this issue and HUD’s ongoing challenges administering the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief program,” he added.
In a letter to Secretary of HUD Ben Carson, Price and chairwoman Lita M. Lowey also questioned the failure to include Puerto Rico in the announcement, thus preventing the island from receiving grant money approved by Congress for the much-needed recovery of the island.
“By failing to publish administrative requirements for eligible grantees on or before September 4, the Department violated the requirements of Section 1102,” Price and Lowey argued on the communication dated Sept. 5 and in reference to the disaster supplemental funds approved by the legislative body.
At the beginning of August, HUD officials revealed the agency would delay about $9 billion in disaster prevention funds to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, distributing the money separately from aid for nine states, citing concerns over corruption and fiscal management.
“The second tranche will include funds for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” informed Carson in an Aug. 2 press release still available on HUD´s website.
Carson also announced he would appoint a monitor to oversee the administration of disaster relief allocated to Puerto Rico, a designation that is still pending.
Federal authorities are working on the requirements for disbursement of disaster mitigation funds for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island
Following the decision to divide the grantees in two groups, on August 23, Carson allocated and revealed the requirements for $6.8 billion in Community Development Block Grants Mitigation funds for Texas, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, California, Missouri, and Georgia.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were not included as anticipated.
Unexpectedly, the agency changed its mind. Last Wednesday, on the deadline to publish allocations and requirements in the Federal Register for mitigation funding approved by Congress, HUD omitted Puerto Rico.
Last March, HUD approved Puerto Rico’s Amended Action Plan appropriating $8.2 billion of Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to assist in the island’s recovery after the havoc caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria almost two years ago. The funds can be used for unmet housing, economic revitalization, and infrastructure.
Before this grant, Congress had assigned $1.5 billion in CDBG-DR on February 1, 2018, just four months after Maria pummeled the island. Puerto Rico should also receive another $8.2 million in CDBG-Mitigation funds.