President Donald Trump is already trying to avoid responsibility for providing relief aid to Puerto Rico for a storm that hasn’t even impacted the island yet. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump repeated a lie that the island territory has already received far more aid than it actually had, and seemed to blame Puerto Rico for its own fate.
“Will it ever end?” Trump wrote, seemingly speaking more about the relief costs than the catastrophic weather. “Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere’.”
Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for “anywhere.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2019
Earlier this year, Trump claimed that Puerto Rico had received $91 billion, so he seems to have inflated the number by a billion. But his claim that Puerto Rico had already received that much money, or that it had otherwise been spent — as insinuated again by his tweet Tuesday — is demonstrably false. The federal government’s own records tell a very different story.
It’s true that Congress has allocated a large sum of money, but that was still only around $42 billion — $50 billion short of Trump’s latest number.
So far, federal agencies are committed (“obligated”) to spending about $20 billion of that, meaning that half of the funds haven’t even been touched. Even that figure only speaks to how much of the money has been budgeted. Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico two years ago, only about $13 billion has actually been spent repairing the island. This represents a seventh of Trump’s claim.
When Trump first told his $91 billion-dollar lie in April, he added his own random estimate of an additional $50 billion for “estimated future FEMA costs over the life of the disaster.” In other words, Trump just assumed of his own accord that repairing Puerto Rico was going to cost more than twice what had been allocated — and then claimed that such a total had already been spent.
But it hasn’t. And claiming that Congress had allocated that total amount itself is a new twist on the lie.
Shortly after Trump tweeted, NBC News reported that the administration is actually taking $271 million away from the Department of Homeland Security, including FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, to pay for more immigration detention space and asylum hearing locations along the southern border. It did not ask Congress for permission to make the reallocation, believing it had the authority itself. The Department of Homeland Security will lose funding for Coast Guard operations, and FEMA will lose funding budgeted to prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes.
Trump’s complaint Tuesday that he may have to provide more disaster relief to Puerto Rico in the near future comes just days after Axios reported that Trump in the past had allegedly suggested using a nuclear weapon to somehow destroy hurricanes. Trump publicly denied the story in a tweet calling it “just more FAKE NEWS.”
Given the president’s penchant for lashing out at stories that paint him in a negative light, the response has only fueled speculation that he did propose such an idea.
Tropical Storm Dorian is still weak, but forecasters predict it could upgrade to a hurricane as it travels through the Caribbean. According to the National Hurricane Center Tuesday morning, “Tropical storm conditions are expected and hurricane conditions are possible in Puerto Rico on Wednesday.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency Monday to prepare for what could be coming. Some 30,000 homes on the island still have blue tarps as roofs — a testament to how much has actually been spent repairing the island.
This story was updated to include reports that the Trump administration was taking funding away from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund.