The White House on Wednesday formally threatened to veto a House bill that would provide billions of dollars in additional funding for earthquake relief in Puerto Rico, less than 24 hours after the island was rocked by a 5.0 magnitude quake.
The House is scheduled to vote later this week on legislation that would provide $4.7 billion in funds after the island, still reeling from 2017’s catastrophic Hurricane Maria, was devastated dozens of powerful earthquakes, including a 6.4-magnitude quake that killed one person and destroyed hundreds of homes Jan. 7. It was the largest earthquake to strike Puerto Rico in over a century and it will continue to produce aftershocks for years to come, USGS officials have warned.
The island experienced a 5.0-magnitude earthquake that struck off the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning.
People in south-west Puerto Rico are sleeping in tents. They are afraid to sleep in their homes.
They are afraid their homes will collapse in the night if another strong quake hits.
Our government should be helping as decisively as they bail out banks.pic.twitter.com/UQVDCk5o9Z
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) January 11, 2020
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said President Trump would veto the “misguided” bill, citing the administration’s past efforts to assist the island in recovery efforts and raising questions about the prudence of providing additional aid to the Puerto Rican government. The OMB also accused House Democrats of rushing the legislation.
“Neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse,” the White House said in its veto threat.
“Puerto Rico has a long history of inadequate financial controls over regular government operations, which forced the Congress to appoint a financial control board in 2016,” the White House added. “Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill, said in a statement Wednesday that the legislation would “help families and communities recover from these devastating earthquakes and puts Puerto Rico on a better path to long-term recovery.”
— Lilia Luciano (@lilialuciano) January 14, 2020
At least 3,173 quakes have jolted the island as of Tuesday, according to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, among them a 5.9-magnitude temblor on Jan.11, a magnitude 5.2 four days later and a magnitude 5.0 this past weekend. At least 186 tremors have been felt on the island, the most in a decade.
Angel “Luigi” Torres, the mayor of Yauco, told NBC News that hundreds of small businesses were destroyed in his town and at least 3,261 homes were damaged. Sixty-two of them collapsed and 245 are compromised, meaning that “if it’s still trembling, they could fall down.”