With the culture of corruption, how many billions will be siphoned off to government officials and their cronies?
Sharyl Attkisson: Where Did The $91 Billion For Hurricane Recovery In Puerto Rico Go?
SHARYL ATTKISSON, “FULL MEASURE” HOST: Imagine having the task of distributing the most aid money ever for a natural disaster responsibly to a government mired in corruption and under FBI investigation. That’s what’s happening right now in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico two years after two hurricanes, Maria and Irma. You have $91 billion reasons to care. That’s how much of your tax money is intended for recovery. Today, we go to Puerto Rico to follow the hurricane money and the fraud.
In the small Puerto Rican village of Corozal Brenda Rodriguez is still waiting for help. She recorded the frightening rise of the river outside her doorstep during Hurricane Maria.
Sharyl: What were you thinking when you saw the river coming up like that?
Brenda: That I was going to die and that the house would fall apart.
Two years later, Rodriguez still lives in the rotted-out home without a penny of the billions earmarked for hurricane recovery. She was surprised to learn she wasn’t eligible for assistance because she doesn’t own the house.
Brenda: A young man came around and gave me an application to fill and that’s it.
Sharyl: The mainland U.S.government gave a lot of money to the territory of Puerto Rico for hurricane recovery.
Rodriguez’s sister is on the phone helping translate.
Sharyl: Has she seen any of those funds they sent being used to help around your community?
Brenda: I haven’t seen any of that.
62,000 hurricane Puerto Rican victims, like Rodriguez, have been denied emergency help for technical reasons. That’s despite a record amount of U.S. tax money being devoted to recovery.
A Full Measure investigation crunched the numbers:
An estimated $48 billion dollars for Puerto Rico will come from emergency recovery funds.
$43 billion more has been appropriated by Congress so far.
In all, it’s estimated the recovery effort in Puerto Rico will amount to $91 billion U.S. tax dollars.
Of that amount, we found that the island has only received about $14 billion.
The biggest single chunk, $5 billion was spent fixing the electric system, which was already failing before the hurricane.
Nearly $20 billion has been earmarked for housing and shelter under “community planning and development” but two years after Maria, less than a million ($913,000) dollars has been paid out.
Omar Marrero is one of Puerto Rico’s top hurricane recovery officials.
Omar: When you talk about how much money has been allocated, earmarked for Puerto Rico, you’re talking about billions. Then you’re like, “Well, they’re well off.” No. That money, even though it has been obligated, there’s not available still for the people.
Morrero told us not one damaged Puerto Rican school has seen permanent repairs in the past two years.
Omar:This is termites— I don’t how to say in English.
Sharyl: Like their tunnel?
Sharyl: Is this classroom being used?
Sharyl: Well, and obviously it rains in here.
Omar: It rains …. exactly.
Omar: They’re painting over the mold, but the mold has not been remediated. The mold is from the hurricane.
To find out what’s wrong, we began with a helicopter tour of the 110-mile long island spotting dots of blue that mark homes that still have no roofs. Puerto Rico is extremely poor. At least 46% of its residents, 1.3 million people, were on welfare before the hurricanes.
Alberto Martinez, a history professor and Puerto Rico native, has been tracking the slow progress on the ground.
Alberto Martinez: Here we see one of the blue tarps distributed by FEMA to cover rooftops. These tarps were supposed to be usable only for 30 days, and yet it’s two years after Hurricane Maria … and yet still here it is.
Sharyl: Have the blue tarps kind of become a symbol of what’s been left undone two years later?
Alberto Martinez: It’s a symbol of the neglect. There’s a bureaucracy in the way that prevents actual funds from being dispersed to individuals. Certainly contractors are making money, but individuals are not getting relief.
We took our questions to the top man in Puerto Rico from FEMA— the Federal Emergency Management Agency— Jonathan Hoyes.
Sharyl: Two years later, they’re spending their own money, local money, to paint over mold because they don’t have FEMA money or federal money to fix the roofs and to do anything else.
Jonathan Hoyes: We’re not happy with the fact that people, as you say, if they are painting over mold are doing that.
But it turns out the biggest disaster relief effort in American history is also the most complicated.
Part of the explanation can be found in massive protests against Puerto Rico’s government while we were there in July.
Sharyl: Fueling discontent in Puerto Rico is news that the FBI is investigating a number of government officials and contractors are under fbi investigation over allegations of misuse of all the taxpayer money sent in after Hurricane Maria.
The FBI has arrested six top Puerto Rican government officials and consultants.
Also charged— FEMA official Ahsha Tribble – once an Obama homeland security adviser. Tribble took the lead on getting Puerto Rico’s electric grid fixed. Now she is accused of taking bribes to steer a $1.8 billion dollar contract to a company called Cobra. Cobra’s CEO at the time and a FEMA friend of Tribble’s who went to work for COBRA were also arrested.
All have denied wrongdoing.
Sharyl: The FBI has arrested some top officials here and said that it’s looking into Hurricane recovery fraud. How would it be possible to steal or commit corruption with this money that is being carefully tracked?
Omar: It could happen in the procurement process. Because, obviously, for any permanent work that was being initiated with disaster funding, you have to do procurement. So unfortunately, most of this recovery processes and as many other jurisdictions, we will not be exempt from wrongdoing.
What’s more, communities normally fund their own immediate repairs and then apply to get paid back by FEMA. But Puerto Rico was bankrupt and mired in a corruption scandal before the hurricanes. That means they didn’t have cash on hand.
Omar: FEMA it is totally agnostic to the fiscal economic situation in Puerto Rico. So as opposed to Texas, we don’t have a rainy day fund.
Sharyl: Because you’re already under financial management because of your, sort of like a bankruptcy.
Omar: Exactly, because when we came into public office, we were already dealing with two man-made hurricanes; fiscal and economic crisis.
Omar: Those challenges on the fiscal side exacerbates even more the recovery process of Puerto Rico.
Sharyl: The program may expect a community to lay out initial money and get paid back for it later?
Jonathan Hoyes: That’s right.
But Puerto Rico really doesn’t have that spare money.
Jonathan Hoyes: Some of the assumptions we have about what a community can do for itself and how quickly they can do it don’t necessarily apply. And that’s where we all have to be as flexible and as patient but as resourceful as we can be.
Both Puerto Rico and FEMA insist they’re doing what they can to get money to the needy while making sure it’s not lost to waste or fraud. Even without most of the recovery money actually in hand, Puerto Rico is slowly returning to normal.
Mego Garcia: We try to help each other recover but it was hard. It was really hard
For months, Mego Garcia says she cared for her mother and sister— both disabled— without power or running water.
Garcia: I don’t work in seven or eight months.
Sharyl: You had to close down this business?
Mego Garcia: Yeah. I don’t have money, no tourists.
Now, she’s been able to reopen the roadside business she’s operated for the past 27 years. And hurricane recovery officials tell us victims like Brenda Rodriguez may yet qualify for some aid, such as cash for relocating to a more livable house. For now, there’s just no telling when that might be.
Puerto Rico’s governor resigned in late July and the territory’s Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced is the new governor. She announced plans to review Hurricane relief funds and all government contracts.
From the comments:
$91 BILLION????????? You could have written every person in Puerto Rico a check for $29,000 and spent less money than $91 BILLION! The next time some liberal wants to take over another facet of our lives keep the $91 BILLION in mind.
Whether the amount is $91 billion or $45 billion the point remains the same. The money, due to corruption and incompetence, is NOT being used to help those who need help. One more example of big government failing. Imagine what these people could do if they controlled healthcare. You’d have people dying while waiting months or years for services we get on a daily basis today.
The money did go, the corrupt PR government can’t account for it….don’t you listen and read the news????
FBI Arrests Former Top Puerto Rico Officials In Government Corruption Scandal
Former Puerto Rico government officials arrested in corruption probe
Puerto Rico Ex-Officials Accused of Steering $15.5 Million in Contracts to Consultants
But I guess all those liberal news outlets were lying and President Trump took the money, right?
I bet nearly all of that money found its way into demonrat coffers one way or another.
Who r u kidding. 91billion. Is a feeding frenzy for politicians.
Really want to know why blue FEMA tarps exist on nearly every home in Puerto Rico? Answer: It assures you will get an exemption and never have to pay property taxes.
The truth is that Puerto Ricans are notoriously corrupt when it comes to paying property taxes — most people simply don’t! Others are given an “exemption” as as long as the home “remains under construction”. Even in good years you’ll find thousands of homes with one room of the house still under going construction and covered by a blue FEMA tarp. It is only when a house is “finished” that is is usually assessed for taxes — so no one ever completes construction on their home.
Sadly this journalist didn’t dig into the FACTS very deep to understand how corruption touches every aspect of life in Puerto Rico — this is a place where federal dollars are used to construct basketball and tennis courts on the sides of hill — unlevel and unusable. This is a land where federal dollars are spent to construct schools that can never be used as they are deemed unsafe for occupancy due to shoddy construction (can you say kickback? or bribe?). This is a land where people don’t pay federal income taxes but reap billions of dollars in federal benefits every year. This is a land where any one “worth their salt” has already packed and left for the states — leaving behind a cult of corruption.
The poor people of Haiti are still waiting for all the Clinton Global money to rebuild their country , too. What do you think this climate change nonsense is about, cleaning up the environment? No it’s a worldwide slush fund to keep the money flowing into the lunatics coffers so they can run political campaigns all over the world.
Wanna feel better about the environment, walk more, don’t use disposable stuff and volunteer to pick up trash off he highway. Don’t give these lying greedy people any money.
By Hoyt Pauer
Independence for PR. Get those crooked bloodsuckers off the backs of US taxpayers.
By Tick Buoy
$91 billion is almost equal to Puerto Rico’s GDP. Just split the money up to avoid corruption. Everybody on the island, man, woman, and child should get $28,000.