FEMA actually can stay in Puerto Rico indefinitely

President Donald Trump tweeted that first responders can’t stay in Puerto Rico “forever,” but if history is any indicator, they can definitely stay there for a long time.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency can (and does) stay involved in disaster relief for years after major catastrophes. In fact, FEMA is still spending money on relief efforts in the wake of a few major storms that are a decade (or even more) old.

More than a dozen years after Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast, FEMA is slated to dole out nearly half a billion dollars in fiscal year 2017 to fund relief efforts, mostly in Louisiana, after the hurricane and subsequent storms Rita and Wilma.

The agency is also still spending millions of dollars this year on recovery plans in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav in Louisiana and Ike in Texas from 2008. In fact, FEMA has already spent $2 million in Puerto Rico relief this year — connected to Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Significant relief efforts remain underway in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, totaling over $1.4 billion this year in disaster recovery money, plus another $1.2 billion this year after Hurricane Matthew last year.

FEMA continues relief efforts for even smaller, lower-profile recovery efforts, dropping millions of dollars this year on floods in Iowa from 2008, Tennessee from 2010, North Dakota from 2011 and Colorado from 2013.

Trump also called the infrastructure on the island a “disaster” before the hurricane hit, blaming Puerto Rico for a financial crisis “largely of their own making.” A broad 83% of electricity customers on the island still didn’t have power and only 22% of cell service antennas were working as of Thursday morning’s update.

White House chief of staff John Kelly said at the daily briefing that the US would “stand with Puerto Rico until the job is done.” Testifying before House panel, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson told lawmakers “I have no intention of abandoning Puerto Rico. They’re a very important part of who we are.”

“Successful recoveries do not last forever; they should be as swift as possible to help people resume their normal lives,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Thursday morning.

The House is slated to vote on a $36.5 billion disaster aid bill on Thursday, nearly $5 billion of which would specifically go to Puerto Rico.

Democrats have been critical of Trump’s comments, saying the President seems more interested in blaming Puerto Rico for its financial situation than continuing recovery efforts.

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