The Trump Administration’s Top 20 Actions That Have Kept Puerto Ricans in Crisis

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane María in Puerto Rico in October 2017.

This column contains a correction.

Trump administration officials arrive today in Puerto Rico for a weeklong tour of the island ahead of the 2020 hurricane season. Since 2017, Puerto Rico has faced unprecedented devastation from hurricanes, earthquakes, COVID-19, and long-standing fiscal and economic crises that demand aggressive federal action in response. As federal officials touch down in San Juan, it is a good time to highlight the multitude of efforts the Trump administration has taken over the past several years to deliberately marginalize and harm Puerto Rico and prevent the island from having any chance of rebuilding its economy or infrastructure.

The following harms are listed in no particular order.

  1. In February 2020, President Donald Trump threatened to veto a $4.7 billion emergency aid package intended to help Puerto Rico recover from a series of damaging earthquakes.
  2. When a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico in January 2020*, President Trump remained publicly silent about the emergency, even though he often publicly comments on natural disasters.
  3. In December 2019, President Trump personally intervened in budget talks to cut Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico by half.
  4. The Trump administration imposed severe restrictions on billions of dollars in emergency relief to Puerto Rico.
  5. Amid protests against the disgraced and now former Gov. Ricardo Roselló of Puerto Rico, President Trump stated, in reference to himself, that he is “the best thing to happen to Puerto Rico.”
  6. President Trump tweeted in August 2019: “Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth.”
  7. In October 2018, President Trump falsely accused Puerto Rican politicians of using disaster relief funding to pay off the island’s debt.
  8. In 2017, during his visit to Puerto Rico after Category 5 Hurricane María, President Trump carelessly tossed paper towels to crowds.
  9. President Trump insulted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as incompetent as Hurricane Dorian approached the island.
  10. On January 31, 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it would stop distributing essential aid in Puerto Rico, reversing its decision only after widespread criticism.
  11. Under the Trump administration, FEMA awarded a $156 million contract for the distribution of 30 million meals for the island following Hurricane María; however, only 50,000 meals were delivered.
  12. President Trump falsely claimed that “Congress had approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico,” when, in reality, Congress has so far appropriated only about $44 billion for Puerto Rico hurricane relief and reconstruction.
  13. In a statement issued by the Office of Management and Budget, the Trump administration wrongfully claimed that $600 million in additional disaster Nutritional Assistance Program funding that Congress allocated for Puerto Rico in fiscal year 2019 was “excessive” and “unnecessary.” After pressure from advocates, the administration relented—but only after months of delays for disaster bills that affected multiple U.S. states and Puerto Rico. The delay caused temporary cuts to more than 670,000 hunger-vulnerable beneficiaries.
  14. Thus far in 2020, President Trump has proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund budget by more than $100 million. These cuts would adversely affect Puerto Rico, which currently has 25 Superfund sites that were affected by flooding and other damages in the wake of Hurricane María.
  15. Despite the decrease of mercury emissions by nearly 11 percent from 2011 to 2017, the Trump administration has weakened limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions that are allowed from power plants. The move will exacerbate existing pollution and clean air issues for Puerto Rico as the island recovers from natural disasters.
  16. In September 2018, President Trump falsely suggested that his political opponents artificially inflated the Hurricane María death toll “in order to make me look as bad as possible.”
  17. In the past three years, the Trump administration has attempted to eliminate at least 95 environmental rules and regulations which directly affect Puerto Rico.
  18. In April 2019, the president falsely complained that Puerto Rico received “far more money than Texas & Florida combined” for disaster relief.
  19. The Trump administration is attempting to eliminate the “cumulative impact” requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This would directly affect Puerto Rico’s economy, which heavily relies on agriculture and tourism. These two sectors are heavily dependent on climate and weather conditions.
  1. The Trump administration contributed to an estimated 2,975 deaths after Hurricane María because of its slow response and failure to provide Puerto Rico with adequate resources or properly trained emergency personnel to match the severity of the situation on the ground.

Federico de Jesús is a consultant for the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Puerto Rico Relief and Economic Policy Initiative. Erin Cohan is the chief of staff and vice president at the Action Fund. 

* Correction, June 15, 2020: This column has been updated to accurately reflect when the earthquake occurred.