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Elizabeth Warren Is Asking The Trump Administration For Answers About Puerto Rico's Disaster Relief Funding

The White House called disaster relief food stamp funds for Puerto Rico "excessive and unnecessary" last week.

Posted on January 22, 2019, at 9:01 a.m. ET

Joseph Prezioso / AFP / Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is asking the Trump administration for answers after recent reports that the White House has considered limiting or cutting off disaster relief funding to Puerto Rico.

In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, Warren asked Office of Management and Budget head and Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson about the administration's plans for disaster relief funds in Puerto Rico.

Specifically, she asked whether the president has ever demanded that disaster relief funds to Puerto Rico should be cut off, and about what the administration plans to do with disaster relief funds already authorized and appropriated for Puerto Rico.

"These new reports and Administration actions appear to reveal that President Trump either does not care about or does not understand the needs of the Puerto Rican people and the federal laws that govern assistance to the US citizens who live on the island," Warren wrote in the letter, sent to Mulvaney and Carson on Monday afternoon.

The letter follows an OMB statement in which the White House called a $600 million grant for disaster nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico "excessive and unnecessary," as well as a recent Washington Post report that President Donald Trump told Mulvaney and then-chief of staff John Kelly in September that he did not want any further disaster relief funding to go to Puerto Rico, after hearing an unsubstantiated claim that Puerto Rico was using disaster relief funds to pay off its debt.

NBC also reported Wednesday that the disbursement of HUD funds for recovery projects on the island is being held up by the partial government shutdown. HUD allocated $1.5 billion to Puerto Rico last February, and an additional $18.5 billion in April 2018.

"Given the President’s reported orders to his senior staff to eliminate Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery funding, this failure to provide congressionally approved funds raises serious concerns that HUD is using the shutdown as a pretext for withholding funds from Puerto Rico," Warren wrote in her letter.

More than a year after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the island is still struggling to recover, with some Puerto Rican families still living under temporary blue tarps instead of roofs. Roughly 100,000 people are estimated to have fled to the mainland United States since the disaster.

In November, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking for additional disaster relief funding, including money for the food stamp program, citing the territory's "inability to provide food security to those in need."

In her letter, Warren asked on what basis the White House had concluded that the emergency food stamp funding is "excessive and unnecessary."

"Has OMB or have any other Administration officials conducted an analysis of current needs, or changes in the need for nutrition assistance post-Maria?" she asked.

Warren, who announced her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination this month, is traveling to Puerto Rico on Tuesday and is scheduled to hold a town hall–style event there to discuss the island's hurricane recovery.

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