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Senate Democrats Demand Trump Administration Answer for 'Unconscionable' Delay of Puerto Rico Food Aid

"There are no excuses for this, and the Trump administration must act now to correct this tragic situation that they have caused."

Residents wait to receive food and water in a neighborhood without grid electricity or running water on October 17, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In a letter to White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday, a group of senators demanded to know why Puerto Rico still hasn't received the $600 million in emergency food stamp aid that Congress approved three weeks ago.

"In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is unconscionable that the Trump administration is allowing the most vulnerable Puerto Ricans to struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the letter's signatories, said in a statement.

The senators' letter (pdf) called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Office of Management and Budget to answer three questions:

  • Has the USDA submitted a request to OMB to release the emergency funds? If not, why not?
  • Has OMB released the funds to USDA to distribute to Puerto Rico? If not, why not?
  • Does the government in Puerto Rico need to submit to USDA a new disaster plan or an amendment to the existing disaster plan?

In addition to Sanders, the letter was signed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

"The administration's delay in delivering this assistance is inexcusable, and we need answers," Harris said in a statement. "We must take immediate action to help our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico who continue to struggle in their recovery efforts."

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, Sanders accused the Trump administration of deliberately holding the emergency funds "in red tape limbo" as the people of Puerto Rico go hungry.

Sanders's tweet came hours after the Washington Post reported Monday that "Puerto Rico does not expect to be able to spend the emergency food stamp funding until September" due to the Trump administration's foot-dragging.

The island slashed food stamp benefits for more than a million people earlier this year in an effort to preserve the program amid a dire funding shortage.

"Emergency food stamp money for Puerto Rico ran out in March," 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."

In a statement on Thursday, Sen. Gillibrand said the Trump administration's delay in delivering the $600 million in emergency funding to Puerto Rico is "disgraceful."

"There are no excuses for this," Gillibrand said, "and the Trump administration must act now to correct this tragic situation that they have caused."

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