Amid reports that Puerto Rico has still not received the $600 million in emergency food stamp aid that President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law more than two weeks ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday accused the White House of "holding the funds in red tape limbo" and said the money must be released "immediately."
Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, specifically called out U.S. Department of Agriculture chief Sonny Perdue and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney for withholding the funds as the people of Puerto Rico "are going hungry."
Congress passed emergency nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico weeks ago. While Puerto Ricans are going hungry, @USDA, @SecretarySonny, @OMBPress, and @MickMulvaneyOMB are holding the funds in red tape limbo. The administration should immediately release these funds. https://t.co/zuv3fHJWPM
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 24, 2019
As the Washington Post reported late Monday, "Puerto Rico does not expect to be able to spend the emergency food stamp funding until September" due to the delay.
"Emergency food stamp money for Puerto Rico ran out in March, starting widespread reductions in benefits," the Post reported, "and funding renewal was delayed by several months amid an impasse among federal lawmakers and opposition to additional funding for Puerto Rico from the Trump administration."
A spokesman for the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service told the Post that Puerto Rico will not receive the emergency funding until the island makes "required system changes" to its food stamps program.
Advocates and Puerto Rican officials expressed outrage at the Trump administration's foot-dragging as thousands of U.S. citizens are suffering and desperate for aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
"The situation is dire," Glorimar Andújar Matos, secretary of Puerto Rico's families department, told the Post. "Given Puerto Rico's unfair treatment in federal programs, we are pushing to receive and utilize the funds as soon as possible."
The delay comes after Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration worked to block any new emergency funding for Puerto Rico. Trump reportedly told officials earlier this year that he "doesn't want another single dollar" going to Puerto Rico despite the growing hunger crisis on the island.
The president ultimately signed into law a $19 billion disaster relief package that included funds for Puerto Rico and U.S. states affected by hurricanes.
"The fact that it's taking so long to get this money for the families who need it the most is beyond frustrating and shocking. It's outrageous," Héctor Cordero-Guzmán, a professor at Baruch College who has briefed lawmakers on Puerto Rico's food stamp program, told the Post.