According to a new report from Axios, President Trump is considering stopping federal aid to Puerto Rico for its recovery from Hurricane Maria. Trump apparently believes that the island is using the relief money to pay off their debt. This, obviously, isn’t real, unlike Trump’s power to cut off aid, which could harm millions of Americans.
Axios note that Trump can’t take back aid that’s already been promised by Congress. However, when another spending bill comes up, Trump could refuse to sign it if it included further aid for Puerto Rico.
Sources say Trump’s thinking around this issue stems from a Wall Street Journal article he read in October. The article tied rising Puerto Rico bond prices to their expectations of increased federal aid. Trump decided that this meant Puerto Rico was running a scam to funnel money for disaster relief into paying down their debt. How did he come to this conclusion? Who the fuck knows.
On Oct. 23, Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Puerto Rico’s “inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations.”
At the same time, White House officials told congressional leadership that Trump was inflamed by the Wall Street Journal article and “doesn’t want to include additional Puerto Rico funding in further spending bills,” according to a congressional leadership aide. “He was unhappy with what he believed was mismanagement of money,” the aide said.
Congress is set to pass new spending bills in December, which is likely to include more money for disaster relief. If Trump can remember what he’s angry about for that long, it would be a chance for him to make good on his threats to withdraw funding.
Since the 2017 hurricane, the federal government has spent $6 billion on disaster recovery, according to FEMA. They predict that a total of $55 billion will be spent on recovery in the long term. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress authorized $10 billion to be spent on immediate recovery efforts, and later added $50 billion. The government is still spending money on Katrina relief efforts today, according to the New York Times. Maria is estimated to have killed 3,000 people, more than Katrina. Trump has publicly disputed that number, calling it a Democratic attempt to smear his administration’s disaster response.
We shouldn’t forget that Puerto Rico is still a territory with no voting representative in Congress. If Trump does decide to veto more spending on their recovery, there is no political recourse for those who live there.
Trump recently said he wouldn’t consider Puerto Rico statehood until he liked their leaders better. “With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” he said.