Puerto Rico gets two-thirds of HUD disaster grants

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WASHINGTON – Puerto Rico will receive $18.4 billion in federal Community Development Block Grants for disasters that may assuage complaints by local officials over the slow flow of federal assistance.

The grants to Puerto Rico represent nearly two thirds of the $28 billion of CDBG disaster grants the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Virgin Islands also will receive $1.6 billion in the disaster grants.

The two territories will use $2 billion of the federal grants for upgrading their electrical grids.

Eleven states and five cities will also receive a share of the money, with the biggest amount of $4.7 billion going to Texas for the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Florida’s share is $707,360 while much of the remaining money is for the rebuilding effort for earlier disasters that occurred in 2016 and 2015.

“It’s clear that a number of states and local communities are still struggling to recover from a variety of natural disasters that occurred in the past three years,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a press release. “These grants will help rebuild communities impacted by past disasters and will also protect them from major disasters in the future.”

Carson told USA TODAY that federal officials had "taken pains" to work with state and local officials in deciding how to apportion the grants.

When asked in the same interview if politics has interfered in HUD’s work, Carson said, "We are getting around it; let's put it that way."

According to HUD, the grants represent the largest single amount of disaster recovery assistance in the department’s history.

Puerto Rico’s grant is divided into two parts: $10.15 billion for unmet needs from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria last September and $8.28 billion for mitigation work to prevent similar damage from future disasters.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, the island's non-voting member of Congress, said, "These funds are a substantial tool for economic recovery and I am extremely pleased to see them reach island residents."

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico said, "This good news is the product of our collaborative work with the administration, our local agencies and our partners at HUD.”

Last month Rosselló and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin settled a dispute over the commonwealth’s access to a federal Community Disaster Loan.

The parties agreed that Puerto Rico may borrow up to $4.7 billion from the federal loan if its cash balances fall below $1.1 billion rather than waiting until its balances fall below $800 million as Treasury had previously required.

Mnuchin said last month that forgiveness of the loan would be considered later this year “based on the facts and circumstances at the time.” He said Treasury would consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, congressional leadership and the Trump administration.

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Hurricane Maria Hurricane Irma Hurricane Harvey Natural disasters HUD Washington DC Puerto Rico U.S. Virgin Islands