DEMOCRATS PRESSURE TRUMP TO RELEASE DISASTER FUNDING FOR PUERTO RICO IN EARTHQUAKE AFTERMATH

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[Puerto Rico\Earthquake Disaster Relief]
“In recent days, the quakes have cost millions in damages, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused widespread electricity blackouts, and forced residents to resort to sleeping in roofless shelters due to the fear of being buried in their own homes by another earthquake."
Photo: Facebook

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) sent a letter yesterday demanding the Trump administration end its delay in federal disaster assistance to Puerto Rico in the face of the island’s urgent humanitarian needs following hundreds of earthquakes and aftershocks, just two years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

"The hurricane devastated the island and today, tens of thousands of people are still living under tarp roofs,” the members of Congress wrote.

“In recent days, the quakes have cost millions in damages, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused widespread electricity blackouts, and forced residents to resort to sleeping in roofless shelters due to the fear of being buried in their own homes by another earthquake."

The letter calls on the president to immediately approve the major disaster declaration made by the Puerto Rican government on January 12, release funds approved by Congress for humanitarian relief, and direct FEMA to undertake a disaster response.

"Let us be clear: Postponing the disbursement of this vital assistance any longer—in the face of the humanitarian needs of Puerto Rico—is simply shameful,” the letter continues."

According to an analysis by the Center for a New Economy, the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Maria are still struggling to recover, and the longer aid is delayed, the greater the likelihood of broad damage to the island’s economy.

Another letter by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, and Rep. Nydia Velázquez was sent to President Trump to waive Puerto Rico's local cost-sharing requirement following recent earthquakes and to ensure the federal government fully cover recovery expenses associated with the emergency that has been declared in Puerto Rico.

In calling for the waiver, lawmakers noted the challenging financial situation and extensive damage in Puerto Rico.

"As Puerto Rico faces new challenges in the wake of these strong earthquakes, the federal government must not stand in the way of Puerto Rico's recovery," the lawmakers wrote to the President.

Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act), which makes federal funds available to areas experiencing a disaster, the federal government is required to cover at least 75% of eligible costs, with local governments providing matching funds to cover remaining costs. However, the federal government has discretion to decrease the amount of local matching funds, including by increasing the federal share of covered costs to 100%.

President Trump exercised this discretion when he adjusted the cost-share for Puerto Rico for certain disaster assistance activities after Hurricane Maria. The Trump administration has currently set the local cost-sharing requirement for eligible costs related to Puerto Rico's recent earthquakes at 25%, which will be a barrier to the island's recovery.

"We urge you to again adjust the cost-share to a 100% federal share for Puerto Rico to help the island respond and recover," wrote the lawmakers. "Without quick action to adjust the cost-share, Puerto Rico may be unable to receive or be delayed in receiving critical assistance needed to make emergency repairs to public facilities and infrastructure."

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