SAN JUAN – US Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged on Thursday that three-quarters of the aid Washington earmarked for Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria has not been distributed on the island more than 20 months after the storm struck.
The Florida Republican visited the US Coast Guard station in San Juan to review progress in repair efforts at the facility following the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico’s modern history.
Rubio was accompanied by Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate to the US House of Representatives, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon.
In a press conference at the Coast Guard base, the senator focused on problems with disbursement of assistance from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The main obstacle, according to Rubio, has been HUD’s failure to publish the guidelines Puerto Rico should follow in submitting a plan to receive funding under the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.
More than $8.3 billion in assistance for Puerto Rico remains tied up because of HUD’s inaction, he said.
Even so, Rubio said he expected the situation to improve once President Donald Trump signs into law the latest congressional bill appropriating money for the US commonwealth in the Caribbean.
“Moreover, we continue working with the money that has been assigned, because there are funds here that have been assigned which still haven’t been distributed, though that is a problem that not only Puerto Rico suffers, but also in Florida, with billions of dollars. A bureaucracy that needs to work,” the senator said.
“We can approve a law and provide funds, but if the agency doesn’t distribute those funds, then that is problematic,” he said.
Rubio added that the bill Trump is set to sign next week includes a provision requiring HUD to publish the relevant application requirements within 90 days.
Gonzalez-Colon said that Rubio has been Puerto Rico’s champion in the US Congress since Maria devastated the island in September 2017.
She credited the Florida senator with securing approval of more than $1.8 billion in assistance for the island.
At least 2,975 people died between September 2017 and February 2018 in Puerto Rico as a consequence of Hurricane Maria, according to an independent study by George Washington University commissioned by the Puerto Rican government.
Maria, which left a large part of the islands without electricity for months, caused economic losses of $90 billion.