The Trump administration held up billions of dollars in relief funds for Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In his first year in office, President Joe Biden has taken several actions designed to assist the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, marking a reverse in policy from former President Donald Trump's repeated acts of hostility toward the island and its residents.
"President Biden has long believed that Puerto Rico, and the more than 3 million American citizens who call it home, deserves to be treated with dignity, equality, and respect, with good jobs and a bright future for all of its residents," the administration noted in a statement on Thursday, the first anniversary of Biden's swearing-in.
In April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that $8.2 billion approved by Congress in 2018 to help recovery in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria would finally be available. Under Trump, release of the aid had been held up by restrictions the administration imposed on how the funds would be spent and accounted for, to which Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) responded, "Why is Puerto Rico always subjected to different standards when it comes to this administration?"
Those restrictions were removed by Biden.
The White House announced in July that it had reinstated the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico, which, according to NBC News, had existed under almost every recent president except Trump, to focus on recovery from the hurricanes as well as earthquakes that struck the island in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The administration said the task force would focus on those issues and not on the long-debated issue of Puerto Rican statehood.
In a readout of the task force's first meeting under Biden, the White House said it would focus on "investing in the long-term resilience of the island so that its communities and infrastructure can withstand future disasters."
The American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress with only Democratic votes in favor of it in the House and Senate, also provided billions of dollars in relief for Puerto Rico. The plan sent over $4 billion to the island to help municipalities deal with the fallout from COVID-19 and $3 billion to fund efforts to retrofit schools to respond to the pandemic.
From early in his presidency, Trump demonstrated open hostility toward Puerto Rico.
The Trump administration was criticized for a lackluster response to Hurricane Maria in 2017. In response, Trump tweeted, "They want everything done for them when it should be a community effort."
Then-San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz took public notice of the inadequate Trump response, and he claimed she had "been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump."
When Trump went to Puerto Rico after the storm, he threw rolls of paper towels at people lined up for relief supplies. Trump later claimed that criticism of the incident was "just a made-up thing" and that "the cheering was incredible" when he walked in.
As officials tallied the death toll from the storm at nearly 3,000 people, Trump continued to falsely insist that fewer than 20 people had died. In a tweet posted in 2018 that is no longer available because Trump's Twitter account was permanently suspended in 2021, he said that the higher figures were "done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible."
In 2019, Trump said that Puerto Rico's politicians "only take from the USA" and accused the island of taking from "our" states. His spokesman Hogan Gidley also referred to the territory as a "country."
Puerto Rico is of course a part of the United States, and people who live there are U.S. citizens.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.