The Trump administration is withholding $8 billion in disaster aid until Puerto Rico agrees to certain conditions, including paying workers less.
The Trump administration is strong-arming the local Puerto Rican government to pay federal contractors less than $15 an hour if the island territory wants to receive more than $8 billion of federal aid, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. The demand goes against a 2018 executive order signed by Puerto Rico's governor requiring construction industry employees to be paid at least $15 an hour for government contracting.
The Trump administration is attaching additional strings to the disaster mitigation aid, which it has held up for months despite congressional approval of the funding. Puerto Rico's government must also agree to new systems to track property deeds, additional authority for the federally mandated Fiscal Control Board, and a mandate that none of the funds will go toward the island's fragile electrical grid, according to what officials told the Post.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the Post that the multiple requirements for aid is "a painful delaying tactic."
Puerto Rico has borne the brunt of a series of natural disasters in the Trump era. In 2017, the island territory was battered by hurricanes, including the devastating Hurricane Maria.
Trump's lackluster response to the repeated disasters has been roundly criticized. In 2018, Trump refused to admit that the death toll from Hurricane Maria was in the thousands, and he regularly attacked local officials involved in the recovery effort. Most infamously, Trump was photographed tossing rolls of paper towels to island residents shortly after Hurricane Maria.
It was after Hurricane Maria battered the island that the governor signed the order raising wages for construction workers to $15 per hour. At the time, the governor said, "it is indispensable that the local construction workforce be stronger than ever," adding that the island needs "more Puerto Rican construction workers, better trained, and better paid."
On Jan 7, 2020, the island was struck by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, killing one person and injuring another nine. A few days later, another strong earthquake rattled Puerto Rico.
In a contrast from attacking local officials after the hurricanes, Trump's response to the recent earthquakes has been silence. More than a week after the first major quake hit the island, Trump has yet to even make a comment via Twitter.
Congress has approved a total of $42 billion for Puerto Rico's recovery efforts. Despite the fact that residents of the island are American citizens, only a small portion of that aid has been released, the Post reported.
"The help comes, but it comes one drop at a time," Elizabeth Ocasio, vice mayor of Ponce, told the Post. "We needed to strengthen these structures after the hurricane. Now, we have greater damage."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.