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Opinion While Puerto Rico suffered, the Trump administration went out of its way not to help

Juan Ramon Velazquez cleans up debris at his home in Juncos, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 24, 2017.
Juan Ramon Velazquez cleans up debris at his home in Juncos, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 24, 2017. (DENNIS M. RIVERA PICHARDO/For The Washington Post)
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ONE MONTH after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, about 80 percent of the island was without power and about 35 percent of the island didn’t have running water. One year after the hurricane made landfall, tens of thousands of residents were still living under temporary blue tarps or had no roofs at all. And two years after Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017, there were still uncleared landslides, washed-out bridges and many homes in disrepair.

All this time — while the U.S. citizens who make Puerto Rico their home were struggling and suffering and dying — it appears the federal government, which is expected to assist in recovery efforts from natural disasters, was purposely going out of its way not to help. That is the damning picture that emerges from an investigation into the delay of federal funds by the Trump administration after back-to-back hurricanes devastated the island.

According to a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, the Trump administration created bureaucratic hurdles that delayed approximately $20 billion in hurricane disaster recovery and mitigation funds to Puerto Rico. The report by Rae Oliver Davis, appointed by President Donald Trump as HUD watchdog, found that the White House budget office added unprecedented layers of red tape and extra steps to grant requirements for Puerto Rico that stalled the desperately needed aid. One senior HUD official bemoaned the review process as “kind of like Groundhog Day, just keeps coming back.” Another HUD official talked about the “poison pills” of some requirements.

The investigation was requested by Congress, and it comes as no surprise, given the Trump administration’s track record in cooperating with any kind of oversight, that it sought to impede and obstruct the inspector general’s work. Former HUD secretary Ben Carson declined to be interviewed, and some officials refused to answer some questions. “Delays and denials of access and refusals to cooperate negatively affected the ability . . . to conduct this review,” said the report of not being able to provide a complete accounting of the political influence of the White House in delaying the aid.

What is clear is that Puerto Rico was treated quite differently from other places — such as Florida or Texas — that had suffered hurricane damage and needed assistance. Mr. Trump used the excuse that the island was in bad shape before the hurricanes hit and that disaster aid had to be closely monitored because of local government corruption. But he could never hide his indifference or disdain for an island he never considered part of the United States. Who can forget the sight of him gleefully tossing paper towels to a crowd in Puerto Rico during a visit that was supposed to bring comfort in the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Maria? Turns out that sadly might have been the only time Mr. Trump lifted a finger to help anyone in Puerto Rico. Good that President Biden has moved quickly to free up billions in aid for an island still hurting from hurricane damage and discriminatory treatment.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Puerto Ricans should never forget how Trump treated them

The Post’s View: Does Maria count as a ‘real catastrophe’ now, Mr. President?

The Post’s View: The U.S. government failed Puerto Rico. Nearly 3,000 lost lives prove it.

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