Where Did Puerto Rico’s Disaster Relief Go?
Almost five years ago to the day, Hurricane Maria wrought catastrophic damage on Puerto Rico. Now another hurricane has caused an island-wide power outage, provoking new questions about the use of billions in federally-allocated disaster relief funds.
One million households are without power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona, then a Category 1 storm, made landfall on the island’s southwestern coast Sunday afternoon. These outages began even before the storm came ashore, with power lines coming down as the storm’s gusts reached the island. Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, has described the damage as “catastrophic” and many remain impacted by mudslides and widespread flooding after parts of the island received nearly 3 feet of rain.
While officials have voiced confidence that electricity would be restored quickly, the blackout comes amid a wave of scrutiny: Billions of dollars were allocated by the federal government to rebuild Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and recovery efforts are projected to cost U.S. taxpayers another $50 billion, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates. But corruption by FEMA officials in Puerto Rico has slowed down progress dramatically. Back in 2019, FEMA’s deputy regional administrator in charge of Maria recovery was indicted as part of a $1.8 billion bribery scheme involving an Oklahoma-based electric company. Officials on the island were also indicted for allegedly steering $15 million in federal rebuilding contracts to preferred contractors. And the Jones Act shares some of the blame since its restrictions on shipping to U.S. territories like Puerto Rico drive up costs for imported products significantly and delay the arrival of necessary supplies during emergency situations.
Congress has begun to ask questions about how exactly that money has been spent over the last five years. At a subcommittee hearing last Thursday of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, officials from the Government Accountability Office told lawmakers that 80 percent of the territorial government’s disaster relief spending has gone to emergency relief, such as removing debris, dwarfing investments in the island’s infrastructure.
Article from Reason.com