Darren Soto targets unspent federal aid to boost Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery

February 21, 2019
In The News

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto this week embarked on a congressional effort to determine why more than $47 billion set aside to help Puerto Rico recover has not yet been disbursed 17 months after Hurricane María devastated the island.

Members of the U.S. House Committee of Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, plan to travel to the island next month to review the lingering needs.

Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat who serves on the committee, unveiled a report Tuesday that said the government of Puerto Rico has only received $2.3 billion of the more than $50 billion that awarded by Congress for the island’s recovery.

He blamed “nonsensical cost sharing requirements” that have been demanded from Puerto Rico and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s lack of flexibility in approving local claims.

“When we think about how this was done, at the highest death toll of any natural disaster in the history of the modern era here in the United States. … It’s a tragedy on a tragedy,” said Soto. “It’s time that President Trump and Congress act to draw down this money and have a real plan for Puerto Rico disaster relief recovery.”

Soto’s report detailed four potential areas of oversight on the island’s recovery progress, including the process to pay available disaster relief funds, the island’s economic growth, debt reform and expanding island residents’ access to Medicaid funds.

FEMA did not respond to a request for comment.

Soto also denounced a federally-appointed board, created in 2016 to manage the island’s billion-dollar debt and oversee its spending, as exercising “broad power over the Puerto Rican government.” The board’s members were appointed by former President Barack Obama and were not subject to senatorial approval.

The visit to the island from March 15-18 will precede congressional oversight hearings, which Soto said could speed up the island’s recovery and tackle the slow response.

“It’s easy to let this slip away and the island will be forgotten. And we can’t let that happen,” Soto said. “There’s a lot of reforms overall about how this country handles disaster relief that would affect Central Florida, the Panhandle and Puerto Rico.”