In the aftermath of the historic devastation imposed by hurricanes last year, several Puerto Rican towns refused to let a good crisis go to waste. New tax notices issued by at least eight Puerto Rico municipalities show that local governments are trying to scam federal taxpayers into sending them a bigger piece of federal relief funds.

When it comes to funding disaster relief, Congress should act to ensure that this never happens again.

Nearly $4 billion has been allocated for the 2017 Puerto Rico disaster relief efforts, most of which is disbursed by FEMA. The appropriations are supposed to pay for rebuilding roads and re-establishing power. Some of these funds are being used to refund American utility companies who rushed to help get the lights turned back on — companies that invested their own resources upfront to deploy trucks, equipment, manpower, and infrastructure to achieve that goal.

According to a recent New York Times piece, companies like Ameren, which serves more than 2 million customers in Missouri and Illinois, sent more than 220 workers to Puerto Rico. Florida Power and Light sent more than 100 trucks and 800 employees. Many of the upfront costs borne by these companies are reimbursed by Congress, as part of the disaster relief appropriations, making the expense a net-neutral financial investment at best.

This summer, however, several of the companies that rushed to rebuild received tax notices from the very Puerto Rican localities where they helped re-establish power. The millions of dollars in licensing and construction taxes were followed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional taxes and interest penalties when payment wasn’t made within a week.

It is expected that the “savvy” utility companies will have these exorbitant "thank-you" taxes compensated by FEMA. As the New York Times highlighted, however, “that would leave federal taxpayers responsible for millions of dollars flowing into municipal coffers in Puerto Rico beyond the repair costs the federal government is already paying.”

FEMA funds are not supposed to be siphoned off by money-hungry local governments. The use of licensing fees is likely associated with a desire to get more money from FEMA quicker, but stands in stark contrast to the intent of congressional appropriations.

When asked by the New York Times about their tax notices, some localities actually reversed course. The threat of transparency forced Mayor Ramon Luis Rivera of Bayamon to rescind the tax notice issued to Florida Power and Light, acknowledging that the company had operated on a non-profit basis and was not subject to taxes.

In 2017, Congress appropriated more than $130 billion for disaster relief across the country, a historic high. Hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters are often extremely expensive events for taxpayers. The least Congress could do moving forward is prohibit local governments from taking advantage of a crisis by extorting the very companies helping in recovery efforts.

Paul Blair (@gopaulblair) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the strategic initiatives director at Americans for Tax Reform.