Jan 17, 2020

Trump admin restricts Puerto Rico disaster relief funds as earthquakes persist

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.

Go deeper: More earthquakes hit Puerto Rico, as island remains in fear

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Puerto Rico protesters call for governor to resign over unused aid

A protest outside the governor's mansion in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan. 20. The sign in the center reads: "The goverment wants us dead, while they hide what is ours." Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

Hundreds of protesters rallied outside Puerto Rico's Capitol building and the governor's coastal mansion Monday evening to demand the U.S. territory's leader resign over unused aid, as earthquakes continue to rock the island, AP reports.

Why it matters: In her first major crisis since becoming governor last August, Gov. Wanda Vázquez fired three top officials over a viral video showing a government warehouse full of unused disaster relief aid dating back to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Go deeperArrowJan 21, 2020

Michael Bloomberg endorses Puerto Rico statehood

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg's 2020 campaign released a plan Monday backing statehood for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.

Why it matters: Other candidates "have tip-toed around the issue of Puerto Rican statehood, saying they want Puerto Ricans to decide whether or not the U.S. territory becomes the country’s 51st state," the Miami Herald writes.

Go deeperArrowJan 27, 2020

Puerto Rico hit by magnitude-5.0 earthquake

Workers clean the debris from the Immaculate Conception Church after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Guayanilla, Puerto Rico on Jan. 11. Photo: Pedro Alejandro Granadillo Hernanadez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A magnitude-5.0 earthquake struck the southern coast of Puerto Rico Saturday, per the U.S. Geological Survey.

The big picture: Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency on Jan. 7 after two earthquakes measuring magnitudes of 6.4 and 5.8 hit the U.S. territory. The island has been rocked by a series of tremors since.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 26, 2020