Dis­as­ter re­lief funds to build wall could come back to bite Trump

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - OPINION - By Eu­gene Scott

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s han­dling of Hur­ri­cane Maria has been crit­i­cized by nearly ev­ery­one, ex­cept Trump him­self, who said his team “did a fan­tas­tic job.”

Crit­ics say the ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to re­spond quickly and ro­bustly to the storm, which harmed in­fra­struc­ture across Puerto Rico. Hos­pi­tals couldn’t func­tion. Clean wa­ter and food were hard to come by. A year later, power is still spotty. An es­ti­mated 3,000 Puerto Ri­cans died dur­ing the dis­as­ter and its im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, ac­cord­ing to a Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity re­port.

Now, Trump is con­sid­er­ing weak­en­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse even fur­ther by us­ing dis­as­ter re­lief funds for Puerto Rico to fund his bor­der wall.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that the White House has di­rected the Army Corps of En­gi­neers to ex­am­ine what of the $13.9 bil­lion in emer­gency funds set aside for Puerto Rico and other storm-dam­aged areas could be used to build a bor­der wall. The ar­ti­cle said:

“Nearly $14 bil­lion in emer­gency dis­as­ter re­lief funds have been al­lo­cated but not yet ob­li­gated through con­tracts for a va­ri­ety of projects in states in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Florida and Texas and in the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Puerto Rico that have been rav­aged by re­cent hur­ri­canes, wild­fires and other nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, ac­cord­ing to the aide fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

“The money funds a va­ri­ety of projects, mostly flood con­trol to pre­vent fu­ture dis­as­ters.”

While progress has been made in help­ing Puerto Rico re­cover, ex­perts and res­i­dents say that projects are nowhere near com­plete. Di­vert­ing funds, they ar­gue, sug­gests a lack of com­mit­ment from the ad­min­is­tra­tion to fol­low through on the already limited ef­forts to re­de­velop the is­land.

Rep. Ny­dia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y., who was born in Puerto Rico, de­nounced the pro­posal as un­ac­cept­able. She said in a state­ment:

“It would be be­yond ap­palling for the Pres­i­dent to take money from places like Puerto Rico that have suf­fered enor­mous catas­tro­phes, cost­ing thou­sands of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens lives, in order to pay for Don­ald Trump’s fool­ish, of­fen­sive and hate­ful wall. Si­phon­ing fund­ing from real dis­as­ters to pay for a cri­sis man­u­fac­tured by the Pres­i­dent is wholly un­ac­cept­able and the Amer­i­can peo­ple won’t fall for it.”

Ri­cardo Ros­selló, gov­er­nor of Puerto Rico, took to Twit­ter to de­nounce the idea and called on Trump to clar­ify his plans. He tweeted:

“No wall should be funded on the pain and suf­fer­ing of US cit­i­zens who have en­dured tragedy and loss through a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. This in­clude those cit­i­zens that live in CA, TX, PR, VI and other ju­ris­dic­tions. Today it’s us, to­mor­row it could be you. No jus­ti­fi­ca­tion should be con­sid­ered to re­clas­sify the money that US cit­i­zens will use to re­build their com­mu­ni­ties. If any­thing, the con­ver­sa­tion should be how we get more re­sources to re­build those im­pacted areas faster.”

Even be­fore this pro­posed plan made the rounds, Puerto Ri­cans had an over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive view of the pres­i­dent’s han­dling of re­lief projects. A Septem­ber 2018 Post-Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion poll found that eight out of 10 Puerto Rico res­i­dents gave Trump neg­a­tive re­views for his re­sponse to the hur­ri­cane with about half giv­ing him the low­est grade: “poor.”

Trump’s han­dling of Puerto Rico is one part of the rea­son he gets such low ap­proval rat­ings (only 25 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Gallup ) from His­panic Amer­i­cans. The pres­i­dent de­fends his pol­i­tics by say­ing he’s fo­cus­ing on win­ning the sup­port of his base - a largely white, older and more con­ser­va­tive group of Amer­i­cans. But most vot­ers are not a part of Trump’s base, as the midterm elections proved. Un­less Trump makes some changes in terms of how he re­sponds to is­sues of im­por­tance to His­panic Amer­i­can vot­ers, he stands to lose the sup­port of even more His­panic Amer­i­cans in 2020.

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