Trump reportedly believes, without evidence, that the Puerto Rican government has been mishandling the relief funding and using it to pay off debt, according to the outlet’s Jonathan Swan. The president made that conclusion after misreading an article in The Wall Street Journal last month, Swan reports, and told Congressional leaders that he “doesn’t want to include additional Puerto Rico funding in further spending bills.”
There is no evidence that the territory has been using any of its relief funds to pay off debt obligations, and the island’s leadership has actually argued against doing so, according to The Washington Post. Trump first alluded to his frustrations with the relief funds last month, saying “inept politicians” were attempting to use the “ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations.”
Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastation left by Maria in late 2017. The island’s government revised death tolls from the storm up to 2,975 in August, numbers that Trump himself has denied multiple times on Twitter.
More than $6 billion has been allocated to help aid storm recovery, but hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for help, living in homes that are in desperate need of repair, according to The New York Times. The island’s leadership has said it needs billions more to rebuild, and in February said that it would cost at least $17 billion just to fix its beleaguered power grid.
Swan reported Sunday that Trump has even proposed demanding some of the money already allocated to relief back.
The president has regularly lashed out at the Puerto Rican government throughout the crisis, and even suggested that the storm’s impact wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like 2005′s Hurricane Katrina. After Trump’s latest attempts to downplay the death toll, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló lambasted the White House and said that the “victims and the people of Puerto Rico do not deserve to have their pain questioned.”
“The people of Puerto Rico deserve a full accounting of the impact of the storm, and they deserve recognition of that impact by our president,” Rosselló wrote. “It is not time to deny what happened. It is time to make sure that it does not happen again.”