The Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General is looking into whether the White House interfered with aid approved for Puerto Rico as the island struggled to recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
The investigation is part of the watchdog’s broader look into disaster grants, HUD-OIG attorney Jeremy Kirkland told a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday.
According to an article in The Washington Post, Kirkland told committee members that the watchdog will be meeting with congressional lawmakers to request a probe into whether the Trump administration slowed aid to the ravaged island.
“We are in the process of looking into whether there has been any interference and do plan to report back to Congress on what we find‚” Kirkland said, adding that a team of agents and attorneys are currently investigating. “I know our folks are out there right now doing that.”
On Monday, the Government Accountability Office drew attention to the issue, publishing a report that stated the government has been slow to get block grants to disaster-struck areas.
And just recently, the Trump administration declined requests to up aid funding to Puerto Rico, the Post reported, with President Donald Trump reportedly telling a group of Senators over lunch this week that Puerto Rico received too much money compared with states like Texas and South Carolina.
According to the Post:
“Trump has repeatedly told aides that he wants to limit how much money the island gets – particularly on disaster spending. Current and former aides said the president derided Puerto Rico, telling Mick Mulvaney – his onetime director of the Office of Management and Budget and now his chief of staff – to limit spending there.”
The Post also reported that in a meeting with advisors last month, President Trump asked for ways to limit federal support to Puerto Rico, arguing that it was misusing funds and that federal dollars to the island should only be spent on strengthening the island’s electrical grid.
A spokesperson for the HUD-OIG told the Post that the office only has the authority to investigate HUD – not the White House – and that it is looking into HUD’s role in administering disaster funding.
The spokesperson said if it uncovered interference on behalf of the White House, it would be referred to another agency.