Jan 16, 2020 - Science

Trump admin restricts Puerto Rico disaster relief funds as earthquakes persist

In this image, a Puerto Rican man bikes past a lopsided building.

A man rides his bicycle in Guanica, Puerto Rico on Jan. 15. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration reportedly followed through on its plan to limit Puerto Rico's hurricane disaster relief funds on Wednesday, the New York Times reports.

Yes, but: In response to back-to-back earthquakes that began in late December, President Trump upgraded his assessment of the island's situation from an "emergency" to a "major disaster" on Thursday — authorizing FEMA and Homeland Security to provide assistance on the ground.

  • Thursday's approval also specifies that federal funding is available Puerto Ricans affected by earthquakes in Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, Utuado and Yauco.

Driving the news: Two 5.5 and 5.0-magnitude earthquakes shook the island on Thursday, according to the United States Geological Survey, along with a 4.8-magnitude quake and three 4.6 quakes.

  • Thousands of people in Puerto Rico have been displaced by earthquakes that have killed at least one person.
  • The U.S. Army built tent cities last weekend to house those displaced by the quakes, NPR reports, after a 5.9-magnitude temblor caused landslides along the southern coast.

Details: The administration's efforts to restrict aid to the island — initially approved in the wake of 2017's Hurricane Maria — involve blocking money for its electrical grid and cutting a $15-an-hour minimum wage to workers on federally funded projects, per the Times.

  • Puerto Rico will have to "submit budget plans to its federally mandated fiscal control board" and "bolster its property registration database" to access the $8.3 billion in disaster prevention funds and $8.2 billion in recovery funds, the Times reports.
  • "Puerto Rico’s government was already straining to spend federal money under earlier restrictions. The new conditions will make it much harder," the Times writes.

Background: The effects of Hurricane Maria, which killed at least 2,975 people, have not been forgotten on the island. The recent string of earthquakes is "only amplifying fears that structures have been further weakened," per NPR.

  • The Housing and Urban Development Department has released only $1.5 billion in congressional relief to Puerto Rico, while citing concerns about the island's political corruption, per the Times.
  • Just $5 million of those allocated funds have been spent.

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