President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday that Puerto Rico had received tens of billions in aid funding following Hurricanes Maria and Irma — far more than was actually provided.
In a pair of tweets, Trump reiterated a number he’s floated before, suggesting the island was given $91 billion in relief money to recover from the devastating storms in 2017. He also claimed the territory’s politicians had mismanaged that money, saying it was unfair to the country’s “farmers and states” — seemingly suggesting Puerto Rico itself was not part of the United States.
“Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money,” he wrote. “The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA … The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump. So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted.”
He added, “Cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!”
Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money. The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019
….The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump. So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted. Cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019
The Washington Post attempted to decipher Trump’s “$91 billion” claim last week. The outlet noted that $41 billion was previously allocated to Puerto Rico, but only a fraction of that spending (around $10 billion total) has actually been identified or delivered to the island (“$1.5 billion last summer and $8.2 billion more approved last month,” according to the Post). Lawmakers are increasingly accusing the administration itself of delaying the rest of the funding with bureaucratic hurdles.
The remaining billions alluded to in Trump’s claim appear to come from a high-end estimate of the government’s liabilities to the island over the entire course of the disaster — i.e. what might be spent in recovery over 20 years or more. As a comparison, the Post notes that these specific kinds of disaster relief funds are still paying for damage from Hurricane Katrina 14 years after it hit New Orleans. Because Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was so particularly devastated by the back-to-back hurricanes in 2017, the estimates for its long-term recovery are incomparably higher than for some of the states that have recently had other kinds of severe-weather emergencies.
The $91 billion sum also mirrors the total estimated damages following Hurricane Maria, predominantly in Puerto Rico.
Confusion over Trump’s statements has reached Capitol Hill this week, where Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted in a New York Daily News op-ed Monday that he was similarly confused about the president’s funding claims. “He claims that Puerto Rico is getting $91 billion in disaster relief,” Schumer wrote, “but no one can discern where he’s getting that figure, which is many times higher than the actual number.”
Tuesday morning’s tweets reflect Trump’s increasingly dismissive response to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
Last week, the president told reporters that “Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being.”
Days earlier, according to news reports, Trump privately told Republican lawmakers Puerto Rico had been given too much aid following the 2017 hurricanes. “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island,” a senior administration official told the Post on March 25.
On Monday evening the Senate rejected a pair of disaster relief bills over funding for Puerto Rico and the Midwest; Democrats voted against a Senate-crafted substitute because it only provided the island with $600 million in food stamp assistance, and Republicans swatted down the House-passed version of the bill because it did not include necessary funds to address severe flooding in states like Nebraska and Iowa.
Trump blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure on Monday night, incorrectly claiming they had ignored the fact that Puerto Rico had received more help than “any ‘place’ in history.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló responded to that statement early Tuesday morning, tweeting, “Mr. President, 558 days have passed since #HurricaneMaria made landfall in #PuertoRico. Yet @FEMA has only approved $300M (not $91 billion) in permanent work projects…. Evidently you’re being badly misled by your advisors.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to an additional request for comment.