Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló ripped the Trump administration Thursday for rejecting food stamp funding for the island and reportedly plotting to cut its emergency aid, as tensions escalate over the ongoing struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria more than a year ago.
With the food stamp funding expected to run out by March, the Democratic-controlled House approved an additional $600 million for the program Wednesday. But in a public letter, the Trump administration called that allocation “excessive and unnecessary,” vowing to sink the package even if it passes the Senate.
The feud comes amid the resignation of a top Housing and Urban Development official, widely regarded as one of the most capable administrators in the agency, after the White House’s attempt to block disaster recovery money for Puerto Rico.
The White House had already angered Puerto Rican officials by directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month to determine how much of the $13.9 billion in emergency funds for Puerto Rico could be redirected to build Trump’s border wall with Mexico.
In response to the disaster, Congress has appropriated nearly $20 billion in HUD disaster-relief funds, only $1.5 billion of which has been approved for spending. That money has been delayed because of the government shutdown, now in its 27th day with no end in sight.
“The bulk of the reconstruction money hasn’t made it, more than a year after the hurricane,” said Federico A. de Jesús, principal of FDJ Solutions, a consulting firm, and the former deputy director of the Puerto Rico governor’s office in Washington. “We should be past the relief effort and into the reconstruction effort.”
Rosselló, a Democrat, has for the most part largely resisted sharply criticizing the White House over its response to the disaster, said Ramón Luis Nieves, a former Puerto Rico state senator, which some on the island have seen as an attempt to avoid alienating the federal government it needs for funding. But in a Facebook video addressed to Trump, Rosselló attacked “unconscionable” remarks and “completely false and inaccurate information” tied to the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reported this week that Trump told top White House officials he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico because he thought the island was not using the money properly and was exploiting the federal government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal deliberations.
“I’m making a public request to you, Mr. President, to meet me so that I can correct the ill-informed advice and disconcerting notions you are getting on Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said, citing the rejection of the food stamps aid request.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment. In its letter, the Office of Management and Budget noted that the additional money requested by the House for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program was far greater than that included in last December’s disaster-relief bill. The administration’s letter also said funding proposed in the legislation, including other alterations to Environmental Protection Agency funding, could prove “unnecessary, excessive, premature, and duplicative” of other federal funding.