Back in 2017, Hurricane Maria swept through the Atlantic, devastating the island and U.S. territory Puerto Rico.
Since then, members of Congress have sought to allocate funding to the island in order to mitigate loss and help its citizens move forward and rebuild after the devastation.
So far, Congress has allotted $43 billion to Puerto Rico, but the island has received about a third of that money.
Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General began looking into whether the White House interfered with aid approved for Puerto Rico as the island struggled to recover from Hurricane Maria.
But now, HUD Secretary Ben Carson is defending the withholding of these funds.
In a hearing Tuesday titled “The End of Affordable Housing? A Review of the Trump Administration’s Plans to Change Housing Finance in America,” the House Financial Services Committee grilled Carson, Department of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria.
During the hearing, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., asked Carson if he withheld the funds due to political motivations.
“If it was not the inspector general pushing for this delay, I wonder if it was politically motivated,” Velazquez said at the hearing. “Did anyone at the White House, including the president or the chief of staff, ask you to withhold money that supposed to go to Puerto Rico.”
But Carson defended HUD’s actions, saying they were guided by common sense due to the corruption in Puerto Rico.
“Interestingly enough, a lot of what we do is dictated by common sense,” Carson responded. “If you have a jurisdiction in which there are three changes of government within a month, and which has historically had difficulty with financial management, to put an unprecedented amount of money in there without the appropriate controls is-”
But Velazquez cut him off, and continued to talk about the political motivation behind the decisions, saying she would get to the bottom of it.
“Your IG says that they had taken oversite steps in Puerto Rico,” Velazquez said. “You withheld the money just to Puerto Rico. And you know what? The simple answer to this is: The disdain and contempt of this administration toward the people of Puerto Rico.”
“Three thousand people died in Puerto Rico under your watch,” she continued. “I will ask for your administration to send to Congress and to this committee every communication related to Puerto Rico. And you know what, sir? We’re going to find out what motivated you to withhold this money from the people of Puerto Rico. If this was about corruption, as you claimed in the press, then deal with your own corruption when FEMA officials were arrested from Puerto Rico.”
But the island was caught mismanaging HUD funds in the past. Back in 2018, a Puerto Rican mayor and two former government officials were arrested for the misuse of HUD funds.
The two officials included former directors of finance from the island’s town Toa Baja, and the mayor is from Sabana Grande. The two officials were accused of stealing $5 million in federal funds to pay the town’s public employees, while Mayor Miguel Ortiz was accused of stealing $3 million in a separate scheme from 2013 to 2016.
Carson state that he has nothing to hide, so he would be glad to get Congress any information they need on communications about Puerto Rico.
Other interesting things also came out of Tuesday’s hearing, such as when Calabria said he’s willing to wipe out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders if needed to protect taxpayers from another bailout. Read more about that here.