Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A federal housing authority letter made public Thursday showed the recent partial government shutdown hindered U.S. disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
The update came in a letter from the Department of Housing and Urban Development about its efforts to assist Puerto Rico's long-term recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Monday. The note was made public Thursday.
"While the recent lapse in appropriations did impact the pace of the Department's work, HUD continues to assist Puerto Rico with its recovery efforts," the letter said.
The update was a response to a letter Warren wrote to HUD last month inquiring on the status of the recovery effort, as reports surfaced that a top HUD official resigned from her post at least in part due to President Donald Trump's efforts to block disaster recovery funding to Puerto Rico, which was badly struck by hurricanes in 2017.
Despite the holdup, the Puerto Rican Housing Authority, called Vivienda, now has access to nearly $1.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funding, HUD said in the letter.
"Vivienda may currently access $1.462 billion in funding," the letter noted. "Vivienda does not have access to $45 million, because the proposed 'mortgage catch-up' activity requires a further statutory waiver."
The HUD funding was announced in February of last year, nearly four months after Maria hit the island. The money is primarily for restoration of damage to homes along with funding for damaged infrastructure and economic revitalization. At the time of the announcement, nearly 500,000 people remained without power on the island. By August 2018, nearly a year after the September 2017 storm, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said that power had been totally restored.
The Department said it needed banking information from Vivienda to make the funding available, and the aide was received on Jan. 10. The funds were linked to the grant on Jan. 16, and additional steps were taken to advance Vivienda's access to the funds when most HUD staff returned to work on Jan. 28.
Some of these additional steps included approving minor modifications in Vivienda's CDBG-DR plan, accepting Vivienda's recent staffing actions to fulfill grant requirements to access the full grant, and extending ongoing technical assistance efforts.
On Feb. 8, nearly two weeks after the shutdown ended, Vivienda made its first withdrawal of funds.
HUD has also now been moving forward on amendments it was unable to consider during the lapse of appropriations due to the shutdown. That includes Vivienda's request for $8.2 billion, and requests for hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and California, among others.