President Donald Trump is sticking to his claim that Congress gave Puerto Rico $91 billion in aid money and that, therefore, the island should be “very happy” and stop asking for more. But his claim is misleading, asserting that the island has received far more cash from Washington than it has.
The $91 billion figure is roughly consistent with some long-run estimates for how much money Puerto Rico may eventually get if the commonwealth gets treatment on par with U.S. states. Yet that’s a big if, especially given recent history, Puerto Rico’s lack of a voting representative in Washington and the views of the president.
As Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has pointed out, the island has actually only seen a fraction of that. According to the island’s recovery office, about $11.4 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds have been approved thus far, with about $5.72 billion disbursed, between individual assistance directly to families and public assistance.
What’s more, a significant portion of the latter was spent in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria for debris cleanup and other emergency measures. Since then, the disbursement of key funds has seemed to stall.
Within that, some critics have focused on the lack of so-called permanent work underway on major infrastructure projects meant to rebuild to pre-storm standards. Only $357.8 million of the FEMA funds obligated thus far fall into that category. And of that, only about $35 million has been disbursed, according to the island’s recovery office.
To be sure, other parts of the government are also contributing funds, but further steps may be required to obtain it, according to the recovery office. Those funding sources include:
- $9.73 billion from Housing and Urban Development
- $1.98 billion from the Small Business Administration
- $1.27 billion from the Department of Agriculture
- $299.5 million from Community Disaster Loan program
- $2.52 billion from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Trump has continued to depict the island’s government as the recipient of massive financial largess, and he has complained that the level of aid has been too generous. Monday’s tweet from Trump echoes one from early last month.