The people of Puerto Rico continue to struggle more than a year after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island in 2017, as communities and businesses carry on with rebuilding and residents who did not flee for the mainland try to get by in an economy that was struggling even before the storm hit.
Though the federal government has delivered aid to the island, President Donald Trump reportedly does not want “another single dollar” going to Puerto Rico, believing disaster relief funding should be reserved for states on the mainland.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Trump made such comments last month during a meeting in the Oval Office to discuss Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, asking his advisers how he can limit funding to the island.
“Trump has continued to ask aides how much money the island will get,” the Post reported, drawing from interviews with senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Then, Trump said he wanted the money only to fortify the electric grid there.”
Officials in Puerto Rico are currently awaiting Congress to determine whether the island will receive further funding for its food stamps program, to which cuts began earlier this month as funding expired.
Lawmakers in the House approved $600 million for the program in January, but — despite the fast approaching deadline — the Senate failed to take up legislation including the funding, opting instead to debate a vote to disapprove the president’s national emergency declaration in pursuit of border wall funding.
Trump has indicated privately that he will not approve additional funding for Puerto Rico beyond the food stamp money, the Post said, and a senior administration official told the newspaper that Trump “doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”
In the meantime, residents of the island are left in limbo, unsure how they will manage if the food stamp money runs completely dry.
About 55 percent of those receiving benefits are children, elderly or disabled, the Post reported. Of the rest, “about 42 percent were looking for work; 15 percent were working; and 17 percent were in school or had a family-related reason for not being able to work,” according to Hector Cordero-Guzman, a professor at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, whose preliminary findings are detailed in a forthcoming research paper.
But those numbers fail to reflect the personal suffering endured by those whose benefits have been affected, like 82-year-old Rafael Veles:
His wife of 56 years has Alzheimer’s disease, and Veles — her caretaker — fears the cut will put the adult diapers he buys, at $16 for each package, outside their budget.
“It’s too little for our expenses,” Veles said. “I have to change her diapers often, and the money is not enough to pay for the Pampers. Sometimes, I have to change her five times a day. It’s not enough.”