The Biden administration will release $1.3 billion in previously blocked relief funds for Puerto Rico's recovery, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced. The money is to be spent on helping the island recover from natural disasters, including Hurricane Maria that devastated the US territory in 2017, and a recent 5.9-magnitude earthquake.
"HUD and the Biden administration are committed to working with Puerto Rico to reset our relationship on the island's recovery efforts, and the action we are taking today will play a key role in this effort by ensuring that Puerto Rico is able to access and spend critical disaster and recovery funds on urgent unmet needs", HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Arthur Jemison said.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki added that the Biden administration is also working to release five billion more in funding previously blocked by former President Donald Trump.
These funds are part of a larger $20 billion package allocated by Congress to help Puerto Rico recover from back-to-back hurricanes that ravaged the island in 2017 and left large parts of it without electricity, cell coverage, and potable water, as well as leaving thousands without housing. The recovery efforts, largely driven by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have been going on since 2017, but have not restored the island's infrastructure in full so far.
The Trump administration, however, severely limited the use of the allocated funds citing fears of possible corruption. Ex-POTUS Trump repeatedly argued that the death toll in Puerto Rico from the 2017 hurricanes had been exaggerated, suggesting that it was made up to get at him.
On the previous administration's orders, the island could not spend money on its electrical grid and had to suspend its $15-an-hour minimum wage for those working on federal relief activities. Trump's cabinet also ordered the installment of a financial oversight office to oversee the spending of relief funds. So far, only around $1.5 billion, a fraction of the funds allocated have been released for the island to use.