President Donald Trump reportedly wants to end federal relief money for Puerto Rico to aid its recovery from Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island.
EFE reported on Sunday that Trump has told GOP leaders and appropriators he does not want to provide more disaster relief funds to Puerto Rico, claiming without evidence that the money is being misused and mismanaged.
Trump also said he wants to roll back some of the funding Congress has already set aside for Hurricane Maria relief, which he cannot do.
The White House declined to comment for the EFE report and did not immediately respond to The Hill.
The president’s reluctance to provide funding stems in part from a misreading of a Wall Street Journal article, Axios reported. The Journal article from October reportedly led him to believe the Puerto Rican government has been using disaster relief money to pay off its debt, though that is not the conclusion of the piece.
Trump’s remarks leave in doubt whether he will sign a future spending bill that includes money for Puerto Rico.
A new study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government over the summer estimates Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people on the island, finding the risk of death was 45 percent higher for “populations living in low socioeconomic development municipalities” and men aged 65 years and older.
Trump without evidence cast doubt on the official death toll of nearly 3,000, while the researchers have stood by their conclusion.
The Category 5 hurricane devastated the island’s infrastructure and resources in 2017, causing lasting damage to the livelihoods and homes of thousands of Puerto Ricans.
The federal government has spent around $6 billion on recovery from Hurricane Maria so far, less than it spent on Hurricane Katrina, EFE noted.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a report released in July admitted the agency was significantly underprepared to deal with the crisis wrought by Hurricane Maria.
“FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure,” the report reads.
Trump in the days after the storm blamed the Puerto Rican government for the significant damage, pointing to the island’s debt.