Laura Sullivan

Updated at 5:50 p.m. ET

A month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan stepped off a helicopter in the town of Ceiba with a mission: Get relief supplies to people in need.

Before Hurricane Maria hit last September, Puerto Rico was battered by the forces of another storm — a financial storm.

The island's own government borrowed billions of dollars to pay its bills, a practice that Puerto Rico's current governor, Ricardo Rosselló, now calls "a big Ponzi scheme."

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This story was reported in partnership with PBS Frontline's podcast, The Frontline Dispatch. You can listen to the extended podcast version of the story here.


Pearlie Mae Brown's wooden house is listing a little. The screen door is broken, and another screen door is nailed sideways over a window.

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An $8 billion federal program to build housing for the poor is so lacking oversight that virtually no one in government knows how it is working, a government auditor testified before Congress today.

"IRS and no one else in the federal government really has an idea of what's going on," said Daniel Garcia-Diaz, an auditor with the Government Accountability Office while testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. "These are basic accountability requirements we would expect of any program, especially one as important as this one."

On the south side of Dallas, Nena Eldridge lives in a sparse but spotless bungalow on a dusty lot. At $550 each month, her rent is just about the cheapest she could find in the city.

After an injury left her unable to work, the only income she receives is a $780 monthly disability check. So she has to make tough financial choices, like living without running water.