[VIDEO] Washington Watch – Spotlight on Puerto Rico: HUD Inspector General Investigating White House Interference in Puerto Rico Funding

By Jennice Fuentes / Fuentes Strategies

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on “The Administration of Disaster Recovery Funds in the Wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.” Witnesses included Puerto Rico Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat and Jeremy Kirkland, Counsel to the Inspector General, among others. At the hearing, full committee Chair Congresswoman Maxine Water (D-CA) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez asked Kirkland if the HUD Inspector General is looking into reports, first surfaced by the Washington Post, that the White House has interfered with the allocation of HUD funding to address the post-Hurricane Maria disaster in Puerto Rico. According to the report, President Trump supposedly continues to insist that Puerto Rico get “as little as possible” to address the hurricane reconstruction.

One and a half years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Island, HUD’s Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funds have yet to fully kick. HUD recently approved the first $1.5 billion in funding, while Secretary Gil said that the second batch of funds (up to $8.5 billion) is in the process of approval.

FEMA “Overshares” Private Data of 2.3 Million Disaster Victims

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) violated the privacy of nearly 2.3 million survivors of recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, by irregularly sharing banking and personal information with a contractor. The fear, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is that this has put those who participated in the Temporary Shelter Assistance program (TSA) at risk of identity theft or fraud. Those affected include victims of the California wildfires of 2017 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, impacting nearly 7,000 Puerto Rican families.

An official at the Department of Homeland Security reported that at this time they had no information if the affected people have been victims of fraud or malicious acts.

Private Sector Employment Improves, Public Sector Drops

Local press reports that the private sector employed 672,000 people in February, 4.5% more than in the same month last year, according to the Department of Labor and Human Resources’ Non-farm Payroll Employment Survey. This is the highest figure since 2015. Employment in the sector, which has been rising for the last five months, is not only recovering from the drop it experienced after the months following Hurricane Maria, but it is also above the levels reached in the previous three years.

The same has not been the case with government employment, which has fallen for 12 of the last 14 years, and in February fell to 201,800. In 10 years, 82,000 jobs in the public sector have been lost. Total employment grew 2.3% to 873,700 workers, 19,500 more than in February 2018, when employment was abnormally low because of the hurricane. It is the highest employment since August 2017, before the arrival of Hurricane Maria.

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