Las Vegas Sun

May 23, 2019

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Unconscionably cruel treatment of Puerto Rico a new low for Trump

President Donald Trump has given himself a 10 out of 10 on the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, but the recent departure of one of his top aides in the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows how much of a lie he’s telling with that assessment.

People who earn perfect scores don’t try to block funding for disaster relief to those who desperately need it — which is what out-going HUD Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude said the Trump administration attempted to do.

In a story last week that brought the issue to light, The Washington Post reported that Patenaude left partly over frustration at an attempt by the Trump White House to divert Puerto Rico’s funding to disaster areas in Florida and Texas in the fall of 2018. That action came after Trump falsely accused “inept politicians” in Puerto Rico of trying to hijack the funding to pay off the island’s debt.

Patenaude told the Post that she assured the administration that Puerto Rico had “sufficient financial controls in place and had put together a thoughtful housing and economic development recovery plan.” The funding stayed in place, and Patenaude deserves credit for standing up to Trump in support of the hurricane victims. 

What Trump tried to do is appalling.

This is a storm that killed more than 3,000 people and left tens of thousands without power until 11 months after Maria made landfall. Residents whose homes were destroyed are still living in tents along beaches and other public areas as they await housing assistance that is taking forever to arrive. Keep in mind: These are American citizens who are continuing to languish while their fellow citizens in places like Houston and the Florida Panhandle are well on their way to getting their lives back together.

Even FEMA acknowledged massive failures in the response, including a near-total lack of emergency supplies on the island because those items had been routed to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile, this month has brought a one-two punch of alarming news from the White House regarding relief for the island: The revelation about Patenaude came just days after reports that Trump was considering using relief funding for Puerto Rico and other areas to build his border wall.

This is a tragedy of our times — the work of a petulant president whose precious ego was bruised by criticism from Puerto Rican officials over the government’s slow and weak response. Trump has been throwing a tantrum at the island ever since, never mind that his critics were only trying to ease the suffering of their fellow citizens.

Don’t think racism isn’t part of this situation, either.

Trump has spun lie after lie over the response, calling it “incredibly successful” and describing it as “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done,” but the truth is that it was grossly inadequate. Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico deserve far, far better.

So let’s make this clear: Not one penny of disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico should go anywhere but to the island. We’re confident that Nevada’s congressional delegation will do what it takes to ensure the funding is untouched.