Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

In this Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing a hard hat at left, works with municipal workers, as they install a new post to return electricity in El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico. (AP) In this Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing a hard hat at left, works with municipal workers, as they install a new post to return electricity in El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico. (AP)

In this Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, wearing a hard hat at left, works with municipal workers, as they install a new post to return electricity in El Ortiz sector of Coamo, Puerto Rico. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 3, 2019

Donald Trump falsely tweets that Puerto Rico got $91 billion in hurricane aid

After Democrats and Republicans in the Senate failed to reach an agreement on disaster aid for Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump falsely tweeted about the amount of hurricane aid already distributed.

"Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money. The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA....," Trump tweeted April 2.

Then he praised his own leadership:

"....The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump. So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted. Cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!"

We found that Trump is wrong about the dollar amount the territory has received and wrong when he said it was a record.

His comments about hurricane aid follow other misleading statements he made related to the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico. Trump mischaracterized the death toll saying the estimate was "done by Democrats," and he exaggerated the poor condition of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid before the hurricanes.

The future of aid to Puerto Rico is up in the air after the Senate failed to move forward on legislation. Both parties have pointed fingers at each other for not reaching an agreement after months of proposals.

While proposals from both parties have included $600 million for food assistance for Puerto Rico, Democrats want millions more for other needs in Puerto Rico including for the electrical grid, FEMA reimbursement and water projects.

Puerto Rico has not received $91 billion

The federal government’s recovery website shows shows $40.7 billion has been allocated (Congress appropriated the spending) through December 2018. Of that, $19.4 billion has been obligated (the government has promised to spend the money) and of that $11.2 billion has been spent. The money comes from various agencies and funds including FEMA, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the Community Development Fund and the Disaster Relief Fund.  

A senior administration official told PolitiFact that Trump arrived at the $91 billion figure by combining the roughly $41 billion already allocated with additional estimated future FEMA costs of $50 billion. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker wrote that the $50 billion was a high end estimate of what would need to be committed under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988.)

That means the $50 billion is speculative, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"It may be spent, it may not, and some of it will be far into the future," he said.

How far into the future? A look at Katrina spending shows it can last for more than a decade after a storm.

There is still Disaster Relief Fund money being paid out related to Katrina (and Rita and Wilma, also 2005 storms), to the tune of nearly $200 million this year, Ellis said.

Sorting out exactly how much the federal government has spent after disasters is tricky. Some hurricanes hit more than one state, and some states receive money for multiple disasters.

Comparing how much various jurisdictions have gotten for different disasters is not an apples-to-apples comparison because some disasters create more damage. Comparisons to disaster aid in Puerto Rico versus other storms also omits inflation and that it is more expensive to get disaster supplies to Puerto Rico ,which is located approximately 1,000 nautical miles from the U.S. mainland.

"Obviously Puerto Rico is not in the continental U.S. so all supplies have to be sent by ship or plane, which increases costs," Ellis said. "You can truck supplies into Louisiana and Texas and Florida. Inflation is a factor -- $1 billion in 2005 is worth more than  $1 billion in 2017."

Federal officials did not respond to our questions asking how Trump concluded that the $91 billion figure was more than any other disaster. But federal reports show that the government has already spent more on Hurricane Katrina -- and that’s without factoring in inflation. The Congressional Research Service estimated in 2014 that "Congress provided roughly $120 billion for Hurricane Katrina."

In his attack on Puerto Rico disaster spending, Trump said that we "cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!"

The federal government pays for disasters in various states and the territory of Puerto Rico, which is a part of the United States. (This is despite the comments by White House spokesman Hogan Gidley on MSNBC who referred to Puerto Rico as "that country." He called it a slip of the tongue.)

Our ruling

Trump tweeted "Puerto Rico got $91 Billion for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before."

Trump arrived at that figure by combining the $41 billion already allocated with additional estimated future FEMA costs over the life of the disaster of $50 billion. But that future payment is speculative, and it will be years before we know how much of it is realized.

Even if the $91 billion is the ultimate cost down the road, the federal government already has estimated it spent $120 billion on Hurricane Katrina.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

President Donald Trump, Tweet, April 2, 2019

President Donald Trump, Tweet, April 2, 2019

FEMA, Recovery.gov website Puerto Rico, Dec. 31, 2018

FEMA, Disaster Relief Fund: Monthly Report, March 13, 2019

Government Accountability Office, 2017 Hurricanes and Wildfires, September 2018

Congressional Budget Office, The Budgetary Impact of the Federal Government’s Response to Disasters, Sept. 23, 2013

Senators Leahy and Schumer, Amendment, April 2, 2019

Washington Post The Fact Checker, Here’s why Trump says Puerto Rico is getting $91 billion in disaster relief, March 28, 2019

Washington Post, Nearly everything Trump just said about Puerto Rico is wrong, April 2, 2019

Factcheck.org, Trump Misleads on Aid to Puerto Rico, April 2, 2019

Bloomberg, Trump Falsely Claims Puerto Rico Wants to Use Aid to Pay Its Debt, Oct. 23, 2018

New York Times, Trump Lashes Out Again at Puerto Rico, Bewildering the Island, April 2, 2019

MSNBC, Hallie Jackson presses White House spokesman after he calls Puerto Rico ‘that country,’ April 2, 2019

NPR, In Puerto Rico, Containers Full Of Goods Sit Undistributed At Ports, Sept. 28, 2017

PolitiFact, Unpacking the spin from Democrats, GOP over which side is blocking hurricane relief for Puerto Rico, April 1, 2019

PolitiFact, Donald Trump wrong about Puerto Rico death toll from Hurricane Maria, Sept. 18, 2018

PolitiFact, Puerto Rico's power grid was weak, not dead, before hurricanes, Sept. 13, 2018

Interview, Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense vice president, April 3, 2019

Office of Management and Budget statement to PolitiFact, April 3, 2019

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Amy Sherman

Donald Trump falsely tweets that Puerto Rico got $91 billion in hurricane aid

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up