Trump Administration Declares Puerto Rico Too Rich for Relief Money

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Department of the Treasury informed the Puerto Rican government on January 9, 2018 that it will not receive a promised $4.9 billion loan for Hurricane Maria rebuilding efforts, after finding that the commonwealth had a cash balance of over $8.5 billion.

According to David Dayen of the Intercept, Puerto Rico had $1.7 billion for day-to-day operations as of December 29, 2017, along with $6.875 billion in other accounts. It will receive the loan from the Community Disaster Loans Program when this money decreases further. The commonwealth is the only US territory affected by disaster that is being means-tested, as well as the only territory that will receive a loan instead of a grant.

Puerto Rico is competing with Florida, Texas, and the US Virgin Islands, which have also suffered hurricane damage, for its share of $36.5 billion in disaster relief funds appropriated by Congress. As of January 27, 2018, almost half of the island is still without power, and Puerto Rican officials have stated that power and sewer companies will run out of funds in January.

The House of Representatives recently denied Puerto Rico $4.6 billion in funding for its Medicaid program, which officials say will run out of money early in 2018. In addition, the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will put an export tax on manufacturers on the island, despite Puerto Rico being U.S. territory.

This story was first reported in Puerto Rico’s daily newspaper, El Nuevo Dia. The Intercept reported the loan denial on January 18. Only a few corporate media outlets have covered this story. Reuters reported similar information on January 17, but stated that the US Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida have received loans, not grants as the Intercept reports. The Associated Press also reported this story on the 17th, but other news outlets, such as the Washington Post and NBC News, merely republished the AP story without any original reporting of their own. Luke Darby of the tabloid magazine GQ shared the Intercept story on the 18th, also commenting: “This is the same approach that conservatives have taken for years with welfare and social programs: make it as punishing as possible to participate in them and try to drown applicants in arbitrary and draconian red tape. Now they’ve taken the same logic and applied it to disaster relief. And with no senators or representatives in Congress, Puerto Ricans have no one at the federal level invested in advocating for them.”

Source: David Dayen, “Trump Administration Tells Puerto Rico It’s Too Rich For Aid Money,” The Intercept, January 18, 2018,

Student Researcher: Peter Schiller (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)