President Trump gave them something to talk about again last Thursday when he said he had helped the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico better than “any living human being” following criticism by Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló over Trump’s statements alluding to a cut in funding to the island as they continue to recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
"If the bully gets close, I'll punch the bully in the mouth," Rosselló told CNN Thursday. "It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage."
Rossello’s comments came after Trump questioned Senate Republicans about the amount Puerto Rico had received in relief funding, comparing their take to what both Texas and South Carolina had received during similar natural disasters and lamenting the higher funding to the U.S. territory.
A spokesman for the White House released a statement the same day saying the administration was committed to helping the territory recover but was concerned about lingering problems with spending by island’s leadership.
A White House spokesman said Tuesday that the Trump administration is committed to “the complete recovery” of Puerto Rico. “The island has received unprecedented support and is on pace to receive tens of billions of dollars from taxpayers,” the spokesman, Judd Deere, said. “However, the Trump Administration will not put taxpayers on the hook to correct a decades-old spending crisis that has left the island with deep-rooted economic problems.”
There is currently a dispute over the amount of funding the island should receive, and the disagreement is threatening to stall a broader disaster aid bill Congress is seeking a vote on Monday afternoon.
The Senate will take a procedural vote on Monday evening on the $13.5 billion bill drafted by Republicans in the chamber. The money would go toward recovery efforts in states including Florida and North Carolina, which were hit with hurricanes last year, as well as areas in the Midwest damaged by flooding last month.
Democrats in the Senate are expected to oppose the progress of the legislation on Monday, arguing that the more than $600 million the bill provides in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico is insufficient. Republicans control the chamber with 53 members, but Senate rules require 60 votes to cut off debate and advance legislation.
Some of the administration’s hesitancy to increase funding for Puerto Rico is likely due to corruption problems the island leadership has had in the past. In July 2018, a Puerto Rican mayor and two former government officials were implicated in a scheme to steal millions from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding they received to pay government officials.
The two officials are former directors of finance from the island’s town Toa Baja, and the mayor is from Sabana Grande, according to the article. The two officials are accused of stealing $5 million in federal funds to pay the town’s public employees, while Mayor Miguel Ortiz is accused of stealing $3 million in a separate scheme from 2013 to 2016.
From the AP article:
Officials said former finance director Victor Cruz Quintero deposited some $2.5 million worth of funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmentinto the town's general and payroll accounts in October 2014.
He also is accused of making similar deposits and transfers of more than $1.75 million in funds from HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services from September 2014 to February 2016.
Some House lawmakers are using the crisis to push for Puerto Rico statehood. In the meantime, despite its spending problems, Puerto Rico has quietly passed its own version of the Green New Deal that will radically overhaul the island’s energy sector with a goal of 100% renewable energy by the year 2050 and a total ban on coal plants by 2028.