House Chairs Question Secretary DeVos’s Delay Distributing COVID-19 Relief for Puerto Rico

Chairman Scott, Chairman Grijalva Investigating Education Department for Withholding 98% of Emergency COVID-19 Relief for Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON – In a letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03) and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (AZ-03) demanded an explanation for why the Department has delayed distributing emergency educational relief for Puerto Rico.

Congress designated $400 million in the CARES Act to help Puerto Rico address immediate educational needs, and the Department has only disbursed $7 million, citing past program implementation challenges.  The Department has indicated it will withhold the remaining relief funds until after the school year begins. 

“Congress designated the Education Stabilization Fund within the CARES Act to expediently provide resources to states and local educational agencies,” the Chairs wrote.  “Congress intended to empower them to respond to immediate operational challenges and plan for the upcoming school year, which will pose substantially different challenges from school years past.   

“While ensuring recipients have sufficient internal controls to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse is paramount to the successful implementation of any program, delayed funding distribution has undermined the core purpose of this program.”

In 2017, Hurricane Irma and Maria caused nearly $100 billion in damage and devastated core parts of Puerto Rico’s education infrastructure.   As a result, Congress recognized Puerto Rico’s need and appropriated $589 million for K-12 school recovery under the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (RESTART) program.   Due to the management challenges, the Department required Puerto Rico provide internal controls and monitoring plans governing the distribution of these funds.  The Department approved those plans and Puerto Rico has since successfully implemented them. 

The Chairs stressed that, instead of blocking urgent educational relief, the Department should work closely with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, like they did during Hurricane Irma and Maria, to ensure schools receive the relief they need.

To read the full letter, click here.


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