HUD broke the law in delaying Puerto Rico aid

What with all the other “Big Scandals” occupying the media’s time this week it was probably easy to lose sight of one of the smaller, but potentially more real stories brewing inside the Beltway. During hearings at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Thursday, two HUD officials testified that they knowingly “failed to comply with the law” when they delayed approving tens of billions of dollars in housing aid for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. This was done during the same time period when they successfully processed emergency aid for 18 states affected by natural disasters. The officials had some reasons to offer as to why this happened, but they don’t sound as if they’ll hold up very well. (NBC News)

Two top officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted at a congressional hearing this week that the agency knowingly missed a legally required deadline that would have made desperately needed hurricane relief funding available to Puerto Rico.

HUD’s chief financial officer, Irv Dennis, and David Woll, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, made the admission Thursday before a House Appropriations subcommittee.

The two told bewildered lawmakers that the agency missed the congressionally mandated deadline to issue a notice that would have kicked off a monthslong process to help Puerto Rico get billions in federal housing funds Congress allocated after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.

As it turns out, there is no provision under the law allowing the agency to miss the deadline for providing official notice to the recipient of such aid (Puerto Rico in this case) after Congress has authorized the emergency relief funds. Congress has the power to cut them some slack if they wish, but given the current political climate, that doesn’t sound terribly likely.

The chief financial officer and the deputy secretary both offered the same explanation for how it happened and it seemed to revolve around allegations made by the White House. Those involved (apparently valid) claims that parts of Puerto Rico’s government were embroiled in corruption and fiscal irregularities. The Governor of Puerto Rico subsequently resigned after details of those “irregularities” were made public.

The pair also cited an ongoing investigation into Puerto Rico’s ability to competently manage the funds once they were disbursed. All of these things may be true, but we still come back to the statutory requirement for HUD to make the funds available once Congress inks the deal. If the money is subsequently squandered or misappropriated by the recipient, the fault lies with Congress for not doing their homework, not HUD.

This news may not be getting much attention now, but it’s going to be a high point for CNN, the major national newspapers and much of the liberal mainstream press. Finding a way to go after HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been a pet project of theirs ever since he took office. As a Trump loyalist and known conservative, the press has been looking for a scandal to take him down since day one. You’ll recall that they submitted endless FOIA requests and scoured every last line of the department’s budget until they found the infamous $31K dining room set that was ordered for Carson’s office and portrayed that as a reason he had to go. (Carson was quietly cleared of wrongdoing in our long national nightmare of Dining-Room-Gate by the Inspector General’s office last month, not that you heard about it on cable news.)

This week’s charges, however, might have some teeth to them. It appears to be a clear (if largely bureaucratic) violation of the law. If the Democrats in Congress really want to pour any effort into this, they may have Carson in their sights again.

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