The next time President Donald Trump decides to erroneously tweet that Puerto Rico has received more recovery money than any other American territory for a natural disaster, he will have to deduct nearly half a billion dollars from his inflated total.
On Wednesday (September 4), the United States Department of Defense announced that $400 million earmarked for Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico will instead be redirected to build the border wall between the southern United States and Mexico. This information comes one day after Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper approved a decision to divert $3.6 billion of the Pentagon’s budget—pulled from 127 U.S. military projects—to pay for 175 miles of barrier.
Reports NBC News:
The department said it was holding off on over $400 million in funding for ten construction projects on [Puerto Rico], including a power substation and a National Guard readiness center. A senior Defense official downplayed the potential impact of the move and noted that most of the projects on the island—which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017—weren't slated to begin work until September 2020 at the earliest.
“We don’t see ourselves delaying those projects. We’re fully committed to that recovery,” the official said.
Since the 2017 storm made landfall in Puerto Rico—causing a total blackout and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people—Trump has launched a series of verbal attacks against its elected officials. While he repeatedly claims that the island has received billions of dollars, in July, NPR reported, “Congress has allocated some $20 billion to rebuild houses and infrastructure and, although planning is going forward, very little of that money has been disbursed yet.”
Along with Puerto Rico, the $3.6 billion in diverted funds will be taken from projects in Guam, on overseas military bases and in 23 states, with Democrat-led states New York and New Mexico the most impacted.
“Officially, the Pentagon is saying the affected projects are ‘deferred, but in order for them to go ahead in the future, Congress must again fund them,” reports The Washington Post. If Congress does not include these items in its next budget, they will in essence be defunded.