U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday declared a major disaster in quake-hit Puerto Rico, a day after his administration placed tougher restrictions on the island for billions of dollars in delayed hurricane aid.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Wanda Vazquez, in a tweet thanked Trump for the disaster declaration, which she requested after a Jan. 7 earthquake and aftershocks collapsed or damaged hundreds of homes on the island and sent nearly 8,000 residents fleeing to shelters.
U.S. legislators welcomed the declaration, which will give Puerto Rico additional federal disaster funds, but called on the administration to release tens of billions more in delayed aid for 2017 hurricanes.
Trump has called Puerto Rico’s leaders “incompetent or corrupt,” and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday said hurricane relief had been held up by concerns it would be mismanaged.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was unacceptable the administration had withheld much of the $44 billion in federal aid granted Puerto Rico following 2017′s Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which killed around 3,000 people. To date, only $15 billion of that money has been distributed.
Thursday’s disaster declaration comes after Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to the U.S. Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, on Wednesday said Puerto Rico would be given an additional $8.2 billion in delayed disaster-aid by HUD.
Trump has described Puerto Rico as “one of the most corrupt place on Earth,” and HUD officials told Reuters the $8.2 billion payout could go ahead as a team was now in place to monitor how it was spent.
Pelosi expressed concern Puerto Rico was being held to a higher standard than other parts of the United States.
The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed tighter restrictions on disaster aid to the island, requiring Puerto Rico to submit budget plans to its federally mandated fiscal control board to track where money goes, the White House Office of Management and Budget told the New York Times.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)