President Donald Trump wants to cut off federal relief funds for Hurricane Maria because he claims the Puerto Rican government is using the funds to pay off debts, Axios reported, though there is no evidence to support the claim.
According to the report, Trump cannot take back the aid that has already been disbursed to the island and has not asked the White House to do so. He can, however, refuse to sign another bill to provide federal funding for Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts.
The president came to the conclusion on his own last month after viewing a Wall Street Journal article, which tied Puerto Rico’s bond prices to the island’s expectations for more federal aid, according to sources cited by Axios. Trump apparently determined that this meant the U.S. territory was using the money to pay off debts, which he falsely tweeted about last month.
The federal government has spent $6 billion on disaster relief efforts since Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year, according to FEMA. The federal government is estimated to spend more than $55 billion on Maria’s recovery, with Congress preparing to pass new spending bills in December.
Local activists took recovery into their own hands, and organized to restore electricity by installing small solar grids on the southeastern coast of the island, Newsweek reported. For eight months after the hurricane, people were living without secure lighting or refrigeration, and grew tired of waiting for federal relief. Organizers on the island started distributing food and water on their own, provided basic health care, and worked toward installing a solar-powered micro-grid.
Trump spread misinformation about hurricane victims in September, as well, when he disputed the official death toll of the storm—again without evidence. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said there were at least 3,000 hurricane-related deaths as of August, which the president inaccurately questioned in a pair of tweets.