The Biden administration announced on Monday that it was gearing up to release a $1.3 billion tranche of aid money that was initially earmarked for Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria recovery until the Trump White House held it hostage.
The money, which will go towards the island’s defenses against future catastrophic climate events, is what the Biden administration described as the first step in a larger effort to tackle racial inequality through policies aimed at addressing climate change.
In the wake of Maria’s carnage, Congress had approved a $20 billion package of aid meant to protect the island from future storms. But that aid had been slow-walked by the Trump administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, which locked the funds up by using restrictions that didn’t apply to other recipients in the same category, according to policy experts. According to federal data, only about 0.7 percent, or $138 million, of that initial aid package was ever disbursed to Puerto Rico — far less than the sum doled out to states like Texas and Florida when they were reeling from similar storms during the same time period.
“That slow pace of disbursement has dampened Puerto Rico’s recovery,” Rosanna Torres, Washington director for the Puerto Rican think tank Center for a New Economy, told the New York Times .
The discrepancy in funding mutated out of what had seemed at the time like an oddly personal grudge Trump harbored against the island’s leadership, which he has repeatedly called “grossly incompetent.”
The failure to distribute adequate amounts of aid has meant that substantive recovery efforts on the island have lagged — a problem that one HUD spokesman told the Times the Biden administration was attempting to address in order to “reset” its relationship with Puerto Rico.
“The action we are taking today will help the island build resilience to future storms and floods,” he said.