The Trump administration is ending a months-long hold of more than $8 billion in disaster aid relief Congress appropriated for Puerto Rico, a senior Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official confirmed early Wednesday.
HUD has been authorized to administer nearly $20 billion to the island’s hurricane relief efforts through its community development block grant. The money is intended to help Puerto Rico respond to the devastating hurricanes that ravaged it in 2017. But Politico, which first reported the administration’s decision, noted that the island has so far only received $1.5 billion.
Puerto Rico will be able to access the funds once HUD publishes a Federal Register notice on how it plans to distribute another $8.2 billion, according to the news outlet. The move is reportedly set to come about four months past the deadline. HUD said that the delay stemmed from an effort to ensure proper safeguards were in place for the apportioned funds.
“Now that a full financial monitoring team is assembled and active, we can move forward with confidence that these disaster recovery funds will reach those who need them the most,” a HUD official told Politico.
HUD’s decision comes as Puerto Rico grapples with the aftermath of a series of damaging earthquakes and amid escalating pressure in Washington. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week called on the White House to stop its “unlawful withholding of funds from Puerto Rico.”
“There has been a disaster designated, but the ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal and we call upon the administration to cease and desist that illegal activity,” she said.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón said in a statement to Politico that the funding is needed “now more than ever after the earthquakes.”
“It’s the best news in months,” she said, adding that she had discussed the issued with President Trump.
Trump earlier this month approved federal emergency funding for Puerto Rico. The White House said that it had ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide equipment and resources to respond to the earthquakes.