More than 670,000 Americans in Puerto Rico are in crisis after Congress missed a deadline to pass a bill allowing additional food stamp and Medicaid benefits.
The absence of Congressional action on the aid package is likely due to the Trump administration’s unwillingness to sign additional aid into law, according to a new Washington Post report. Sources the Post describes as “senior administration officials” who are close to the president said that during a February 22 Oval Office meeting, Trump asked them about ways they could deny Puerto Rico additional money beyond food stamp assistance, believing that Puerto Rican aid was costing the mainland U.S.
“[Trump] doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island,” the Post‘s source said.
President Trump’s position on denying new aid to Puerto Rico allegedly stems from a report by the Wall Street Journal that described how fiscal analysts deemed the U.S. territory’s economy would improve after receiving federal government aid. Trump apparently interpreted the report as bondholders getting rich off of government assistance, and has reportedly complained multiple times in meetings that Puerto Rico is getting too much money.
Because Puerto Rico is not officially a state, Congress has to pass a block grant package for residents of the U.S. territory to be able to get food stamps and Medicaid — the federally funded healthcare program for low-income residents of states. And the need for food stamp benefits, which are already less than what other states grant to their food stamp recipients, is especially dire on Puerto Rico given that the island is still waiting on billions of dollars in aid it was promised after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Puerto Rican food stamp aid largely dried up after March 12, roughly two months after House Democrats passed a bill allocating $600 million in food stamps for the island. That funding would have kept benefits coming to island residents until the fall. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) refused to bring the bill up for a vote. Congress adjourned for a week-long recess after deliberations over Trump’s emergency declaration over the construction of a wall along the Southern border of the U.S.
The death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is approximately 3,000, after it was initially estimated to be around 65. That’s around the same number as the death toll from the 9/11 attacks, and nearly twice as high as the death toll from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. President Trump gave his administration a 10 out of 10 in its response to Maria, even as vast swaths of the island were without electricity and drinking water.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.