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article imageHUD stonewalling on $8.3 billion aid package for Puerto Rico

By Karen Graham     Oct 19, 2019 in Politics
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is illegally withholding billions of dollars in natural disaster aid from Puerto Rico, based on remarks by Trump and HUD alleging corruption and financial irregularities is behind the delay.
Two senior HUD officials involved in a decision to withhold disaster aid from Puerto Rico were grilled by the House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday. They acknowledged the agency knowingly stalled sending hurricane relief funding to Puerto Rico after missing a legally required deadline to do so, reports The Hill.
The federal money - $8.3 billion - is part of a $19 billion supplemental bill approved by President Donald Trump in June. There is a stipulation in the bill that requires HUD to begin the process of providing each state and U.S. territory with guidelines by September 4, 2019, on how to submit plans that detail how they'd spend the money.
HUD complied with the bill, to the extent that the agency started the process with all nine of the states and the U.S. Virgin Islands - with the exception of Puerto Rico, the recipient of the largest share of the $19 billion, according to Newsweek.
HUD’s chief financial officer, Irv Dennis, and David Woll, the department's principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, explained to the committee that it was "their belief" that they had two options regarding the funds.
They could "safeguard" the money by holding onto the funds and trying to explain to lawmakers their rationale for missing the deadline: or they could hand out the funds and explain in the future why the money succumbed to fraud and corruption on the island territory.
Ben Carson "has a brilliant mind"  says Donald Trump
Ben Carson "has a brilliant mind", says Donald Trump
Dominick Reuter, AFP/File
The officials based their explanation on past political corruption and fraud in the island territory and the more recent political upheaval that led to the ouster of former Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
"We want to have a belt and suspenders plan in place to make sure that, A: we're protecting taxpayers but, B: more importantly, that the money is going to the people of Puerto Rico and not being wasted or abused," Woll told lawmakers."
Woll wouldn't go beyond saying that they plan to release Puerto Rico's guidelines "very soon," adding that he did not "want to commit to a specific day, but we're working. It's hard. It's one of our top priorities." This is despite the fact that HUD is already six weeks past the mandated deadline.
The HUD officials told the committee that their reason for withholding the funding was HUD's position as a whole and there was no directive from HUD head Ben Carson involved. Lawmakers were not satisfied with the explanation.
"All of us at HUD stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Puerto Rico,” Woll said during the hearing. “At HUD we are committed to the recovery of all Americans whose homes and communities were devastated by natural disasters, and we are steadfast in our stewardship of the funding and trust in us by you in your colleagues in Congress.”
However, Representative Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chair of the Appropriations Committee, characterized HUD's move as "perpetual stonewalling."
"No caveats. No carve-outs. No exemptions," Lowey told Woll and HUD Chief Financial Officer Irving Dennis, who also testified. "It's not just unacceptable: It is unlawful."
“HUD did fail to comply with the law,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said at the hearing. But Woll and Dennis defended the agency's actions, echoing President Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s remarks that alleged corruption and financial irregularities produced the delay.
More about Puerto rico, natural disaster aid, Housing and urban development, $83 billion, Trump remarks
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