Menendez, Colleagues Request Senate Banking Committee Hearings on HUD’s Inaction in Disbursing Billions of Dollars for Puerto Rico

Menendez, Colleagues Request Senate Banking Committee Hearings on HUD’s Inaction in Disbursing Billions of Dollars for Puerto Rico

‘Today, as Puerto Ricans struggle to recover from a deadly 6.4 magnitude earthquake and over 600 additional tremors (…) this funding is more critical than ever’

   

WASHINGTON, D.C – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, today led a letter cosigned by committee colleagues  Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) requesting Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to immediately hold hearings on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) failure to disburse billions of dollars in congressionally appropriated funding for Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, and that they hear directly from HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“For two years, HUD and senior personnel at the Office of Management and Budget have played a dangerous game with the lives of nearly 3.5 million Americans on the Island by finding innovative ways of delaying relief from reaching these citizens.  The deadly consequences of which are again brought to light by the recent earthquakes that have struck the island,” wrote the senators to Chairman Crapo and Ranking Member Brown. “Today, as Puerto Ricans struggle to recover from a deadly 6.4 magnitude earthquake and over 600 additional tremors since December 28, 2019, this funding is more critical than ever.”

HUD’s withholding of critical disaster aid hampered restoration and rebuilding of the island’s infrastructure and residences damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The inability to make timely repairs only exacerbated the impact of the earthquakes and aftershocks currently rocking Puerto Rico, which has led to at least two reported deaths.

Earlier this week, Sen. Menendez joined several colleagues in sending a letter to President Trump expressing their strong support of Puerto Rico’s request for a major disaster declaration following the January 7 earthquake. This declaration for eight municipalities in Puerto Rico would allow individuals living and affected by the earthquakes to receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to seek alternative temporary lodging and funding to repair or replace their homes.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Chairman Crapo and Ranking Member Brown,

I write to request you immediately hold hearings on the gross negligence exhibited by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inaction in disbursing billions of dollars in congressionally appropriated funding for Puerto Rico’s recovery.  Any such hearings should include testimony from HUD Secretary Carson.  Today, as Puerto Ricans struggle to recover from a deadly 6.4 magnitude earthquake and over 600 additional tremors since December 28, 2019, this funding is more critical than ever.

It’s been nearly two years since Congress passed and the President signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-123) granting Puerto Rico nearly $18.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding.  In July 2018, HUD approved the first of four recovery plans to allow Puerto Rico access to a first tranche of $1.5 billion in CDBG-DR funding  appropriated in the Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2017.    However, HUD delayed the signing of the grant agreement that would allow the local government to draw down from this funding until February 2019, more than a year after Congress appropriated the money. A month later, March 2019, HUD approved a second recovery plan for $8.2 billion in CDBG-DR funding for unmet needs.   As of today, more than 300 days later, HUD officials have yet to sign a second grant agreement to allow Puerto Rico access to this second pot of funding.

To make matters worse, on June 6, 2019 Congress passed and the President signed the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 (P.L. 116-20)  which required HUD to publish all Federal Register notices for mitigation funding, including the notice on how Puerto Rico is to use a third tranche of $8.3 billion in mitigation funding, by September 4, 2019. Again, in blatant disregard for the law or the authority of Congress, the Administration has refused to comply.

For two years, HUD and senior personnel at the Office of Management and Budget have played a dangerous game with the lives of nearly 3.5 million Americans on the Island by finding innovative ways of delaying relief from reaching these citizens. The deadly consequences of which are again brought to light by the recent earthquakes that have struck the island. As such, it is imperative that the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs exercise its oversight over the Administration and hold public hearings to uncover the reasons for delaying disaster relief funding to the people of Puerto Rico and call for the Administration to comply with the law.

I look forward to your response to this important and timely request.

Sincerely,