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Puerto Rico has gotten far less aid than Trump has claimed, report shows

The administration has allocated $42.3 billion to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but the island has received only a small fraction of that.
Puerto Rico Marks Holiday Season Amidst Slow Hurricane Recovery
Contractors apply a FEMA tarp to a home damaged by Hurricane Maria on Dec. 20, 2017 in Morovis, Puerto Rico.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that his administration has given Puerto Rico $91 billion in relief funds after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island in 2017. But a new report maintains that the island has received only $12.6 billion.

According to data analyzed by Puerto Rico’s top research think tank, the Center for a New Economy (CNE), the administration has allocated $42.3 billion to the island through 17 different government agencies to fund specific programs.

That doesn’t mean Puerto Rico has received this amount, however.

Allocated funds live in a separate global appropriations account until the government makes a legally liable commitment to use the money. Nearly half of the allocated funds — about $20.4 billion — have been obligated toward disaster assistance programs and hurricane education recovery efforts, among other services.

Only $12.6 billion has been disbursed to Puerto Rico out of the total amount that was obligated. Some of that money has been used to fund the work of the Army Corps of Engineers on the island and to provide disaster loans for hurricane-stricken small businesses, among other efforts, according to the FEMA Recovery Support website.

“Part of the confusion we have witnessed recently is due to the fact that different parties either incorrectly use these concepts interchangeably or use the most convenient one to further their ideological or political agenda,” authors Sergio Marxuach, the center's public policy director, and Rosanna Torres, its director, wrote in the report, which was released Monday.

The $91 billion that Trump continuously tweets about and brings up at his 2020 presidential campaign rallies is an estimate of the amount that could be allotted to Puerto Rico over the next two decades.

The estimate is based on the total amount of damages Puerto Rico suffered during Hurricane Maria, which have been estimated at $90 billion, making it the third-costliest hurricane in the United States on record.

At least 2,975 people died as a result of the hurricane, making it the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years.

One of Trump’s talking points at his campaign rallies is comparing how much aid Puerto Rico has received versus Florida and Texas, which were also stricken by hurricanes in 2017. Trump says that both states have received far less than Puerto Rico.

According to recent numbers, the administration has not provided hurricane ravaged areas with aid that’s correlated to the magnitude of the storms' losses.

Hurricane Irma, which ravaged Puerto Rico before making landfall in Florida, caused $50 billion in damages and killed at least 123 people in the state. The Trump administration responded by allocating a little over $8 billion. Florida has received nearly half of that money, data from the FEMA Recovery Support website shows.

Texas incurred approximately $125 billion in damages after Hurricane Harvey killed about 106 people. The Trump administration has allocated nearly $26 billion to the state, about a fourth of which has actually been disbursed, according to FEMA Recovery Support’s data.

The House passed a bill on Friday providing $17.2 billion in relief and recovery assistance for areas affected by all three hurricanes, as well as recent floods in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South. There are currently no formal plans to take it up in the Senate, but some Senate aides said they hope the bill gets voted on sometime before Memorial Day recess.