Washington - Just as President Donald Trump renews his intention to limit emergency allocations for Puerto Rico, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) confirmed that it is investigating allegations that the current White House tenant interfered with Puerto Rico aid.
"We recognize the importance of this," OIG legal counsel Jeremy Kirkland said yesterday as he answered questions from Democratic Representative Nydia Velazquez (New York) at a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Financial Services.
HUD's OIG investigation responds to a request made two months ago, on January 17 when Democratic Representatives Nydia Velázquez (New York), Bennie Thompson (Mississippi) and Raúl Grijalva (Arizona) sent a letter to the HUD inspector general asking if the Office of Management and Budget or any other White House office directed HUD to “unduly withhold or otherwise hinder" disaster relief block funds for Puerto Rico.
According to a The Washington Post article published in January, Trump's pressure to stop funds for the island included the nearly $20 billion committed in CDBG-DR funds, with only $1.507 billion authorized for release. The Post reported that Trump's intention led to the resignation of HUD former deputy secretary Pam Patenaude, whom the Puerto Rico government considered its closest ally in the U.S. government.
Velázquez, a member of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
and chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business; Maxine Waters (California), chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee and Democrat Sylvia Garcia (Texas) questioned Kirkland about repeated reports on Trump´s intentions to limit funds for Puerto Rico.
"This is a matter of life and death," Velázquez said
When Velázquez asked if they had interviewed former HUD deputy secretary Patenaude, Kirkland said they are taking active steps to get the information. He then said there is a team of "agents and attorneys" investigating.
At the end of the hearing, Rep. García asked about the specific steps the OIG is taking in its investigation. "We are interviewing a number of people... some of them have left (HUD)," Kirkland answered.
Yesterday, shortly after the hearing ended, at a meeting with Republican senators, President Trump questioned again whether new emergency aid should be granted to the island.
According to Bloomberg news, Trump even used charts “to illustrate his view that Puerto Rico has been given too much in disaster aid over recent years compared to states like Texas and has failed to make good use of it.”
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that President Trump only agrees to grant the island the $600 million in emergency food assistance -still in Congress- and funds to rebuild the power grid.
Yesterday, the Senate voted 90-10 to bring the disaster relief bill to the floor for debate.
The debate will bring the bill approved in the House to the floor but will grant the Senate Republican majority space to propose their own bill.
The Senate Republican majority bill includes the $600 million in food aid that was approved last January by the House Democratic majority and another $5 million to study the impact of emergency nutritional assistance on the island.
However, the measure excluded a waiver from FEMA matching requirements for emergency works and debris removal in Puerto Rico and the 25 million for the Caño Martín Peña restoration.
Republican Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee confirmed that Trump alluded to his concerns about new funds for Puerto Rico. Shelby went even further and said that Trump was “right on that. A lot of it’s been misused and abused.”