Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks with a resident of Ponce...

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks with a resident of Ponce during a visit to a temporary shelter in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. Credit: Bloomberg / Xavier Garcia

ALBANY — In Puerto Rico Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said President Donald Trump was abusive to island residents for delaying the release of billions in federal disaster aid to the American island that has suffered two natural disasters in two years.

The Trump administration this week ended a monthslong hold on more than $8 billion in disaster aid relief that Congress had appropriated for Puerto Rico in response to hurricane Maria in 2017.

Cuomo said that is too little, too late. He said the delay made damage from this year’s earthquake worse because buildings hadn’t been strengthened after being damaged by the hurricane.

Trump “came here, he threw some paper towels into a crowd, and left,” Cuomo said of the Republican president’s visit to Puerto Rico in October 2017. Trump had visited the island after the hurricane and during his press conference tossed paper towels to first responders to show the federal government was providing resources.

“This has been abusive,” Cuomo said Wednesday of the federal aid delayed until this week for recovery from the deadly hurricane. “It violates the fundamental relationship of American citizens.”

Cuomo spoke briefly in Spanish at Wednesday’s press event, repeatedly saying “somos uno,” Spanish for “we are one.”

    The federal aid announced this week is part of the $20 billion that Congress authorized for relief and reconstruction of Puerto Rico after it was smashed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Politico first reported that the delay by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department was to make sure there were safeguards on how the money was spent. Trump this month ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide funding and resources for Puerto Rico following this year’s earthquake.

“Do I feel the federal government is feeling tremendous political pressure? Yes,” Cuomo said. “Do I believe without the political pressure would they be releasing the funds? No.”

    Cuomo and top government officials and emergency workers have responded to the hurricane and earthquake with state funding that Cuomo officials said will be reimbursed by the federal government. On Wednesday Cuomo announced the state would provide more resources and staff to help restore electricity, repair buildings and provide mental health services.

"The federal administration needs to put its money where its mouth is and actually get the money out the door now,” said Assemb. Marco Crespo (D-Bronx) and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in a joint statement.  “Any further delay will cause even more unnecessary suffering to the people of Puerto Rico, who President Trump seems to have forgotten are American citizens.”

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