House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has led a group of lawmakers to Puerto Rico for the first time since a series of devastating earthquakes struck the island in late December and early January.
The two-day trip comes at a time when Democrats are at odds with President Donald Trump about the release of full aid to Puerto Rico for disaster relief.
Joining Hoyer are Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) had to withdraw from the trip.
Their visit will include updates from Puerto Ricos Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and other top leaders as well as surveying the damage caused by the earthquakes.
“We were supposed to meet with the Governor. The Governor had a family emergency, a health emergency. Ironically, one of our Members, a Member from Louisiana, had a similar emergency, so he could not be here. A Republican Member of the Congress,” said Hoyer in a Feb. 17 statement.
Vázquez Garced has faced calls by the public to resign over her handling of disaster relief and firing of Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.
The Congress members are also scheduled to travel to the southern part of the island, where thousands of people have been made homeless by the earthquakes that toppled structures in the area.
“We will be going to the south tomorrow, and were going to visit schools in Guánica and were going to talk to citizens who are there and we will be talking to displaced individuals,” Hoyer said.
The last earthquake, a 6.4 magnitude tremor, struck the U.S. island territory in January and rendered thousands of people homeless and without power. That quake followed hundreds of quakes that had struck Puerto Rico since late December.
“We are here because of our great concern, our great concern… Congress of the United States has appropriated over $50 billion to respond to the crisis in infrastructure, human needs, housing, nutrition, education, and transportation—all of the issues, including water, sewer, and the electric grid.”
After months of protests from Democrats, the White House announced in January that it would release $8 billion in long-term rebuilding aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Trump administration has repeatedly voiced concerns of alleged corruption and mismanagement as the reason for not handing over billions of dollars in disaster funds to the island.
A senior Housing and Urban Development official said in a _