Speed Reads

happening in puerto rico

Puerto Rico drains half of emergency funds as it awaits White House response on disaster designation

Puerto Rico hasn't heard back from the White House, so officials are taking matters into their own hands.

After the U.S. territory was hit with yet another significant earthquake on Wednesday, rattling the island even further as residents scramble to recover from a series of tremors up to 6.4 magnitude in recent weeks, Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced requested the White House declared a major disaster. President Trump did approve some federal emergency funding for the island, but declaring a "major disaster" — rather than an "emergency" — would authorize further federal funding. The request for the new designation came on Jan. 11, but officials still haven't gotten a response, despite pleading letters both from Florida congressmembers and more than two dozen Democratic senators, reports CBS News' David Begnaud.

Without any additional government help in sight, Vázquez Garced decided to disburse the island's emergency funds to regional officials, reports Begnaud. "They aren't waiting on [Trump] to approve new aid," he wrote. There's $260 million in emergency reserve cash, from a fund that was established after Hurricane Maria's devastation. The Trump administration still hasn't released $8 billion in funds allocated for Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery, reports The Hill, so the island's own backup fund is the best way to ensure it has quick access to money.

While Puerto Rico drains half of its entire emergency fund, the Trump administration imposed "severe restrictions" on billions of dollars in aid for the island, reports The New York Times. The new requirements bar Puerto Rico from paying its $15 minimum wage to contractors working on federally funded disaster projects, and restrict any money from going toward the island's delicate power grid. If Puerto Rico doesn't agree to the requirements, the administration could withhold the allocated funding entirely, reports The Washington Post. A White House spokesperson called the restrictions on emergency funding "a great win for Puerto Ricans and U.S. taxpayers."