More Must Be Done to Help Puerto Rico
A month ago, hurricane Maria brought Puerto Rico to its knees. A natural disaster of this intensity had not hit the island for more than 85 years. It ripped through an already vulnerable island with outdated infrastructure. Combined with the ongoing fiscal crisis, this hurricane has brought about a humanitarian crisisin Puerto Rico. I believe the 3.4 million Americans who live there deserve the same attention, sense of urgency, and help that our fellow Americans in Texas and Florida got from this President. His delayed and insufficient response in handling this crisis—coupled with his threats to pull aid from the island—is outrageous.
More than a week after the hurricane, President Trump temporarily waived the Jones Act. This delayed response to Puerto Rico did not come without significant pressure from members of Congress like myself and other citizens who were equally outraged by his actions, or lack thereof. But more needs to be done. Congress needs to keep pressuring this Administration to take the necessary steps to help Puerto Rico recover from the effects of the worst natural disaster in recent history.
As a senior Member of the Appropriations Committee, I have been working with my colleagues on the committee to help quickly craft a comprehensive emergency disaster supplemental that allocates robust funding to address the rebuilding and recovery process in areas impacted by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey. This month, Congress approved disaster relief supplemental legislation that includes nearly 20 billion for the FEMA disaster relief fund for responding to hurricanes, including Hurricane Maria, and $4.9 billion to shore up Puerto Rico’s liquidity and over $1.25 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for residents of the island.
Immediately after the hurricane’s passage, I also urged the President to create a reconstruction Task Force similar to the one created after Hurricane Sandy to help rebuild the areas affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey in a comprehensive and sustained manner. To expedite the arrival of supplies and other resources to the island, a temporary lift of the Jones Act –which also I urged this Administration to do –was crucial. The President’s decision to temporarily lift was welcome news, but it needed to be for more than 10 days. It needs to be lifted for the duration of this crisis, at a minimum.
Another important issue is the imminent health crisis the island faces as a result of lack of access to adequate health care and sanitary services, and a higher risk of potential exposure to infectious diseases. Two weeks ago, I wrote to the Health and Human Services Secretary urging him to do more to ensure individuals have access to medicine and safe drinking water, that hospitals can begin to operate at full capacity all over the island, and to minimize the spread of dangerous diseases. Puerto Rico is at risk of a secondary tragedy without a greater focus on public health.
Lastly, this crisis has been exacerbated by the lack of telecommunications on the island. While telecommunications are slowly being reestablished, more needs to be done. That is why I also led a letter supported by 50 Members of Congress urging President Trump to deploy all available federal assets and agencies to rebuild the communications infrastructure of Puerto Rico. The island has a failing infrastructuresystem that needs to be addressed as part of the recovery efforts.
I commend and thank all of those that have taken the initiative to help Puerto Rico by organizing donation drives, going down to the island to help with rescue efforts and sharing vital information with friends and family of those back in the island. For more information on how you can help, please visit fema.gov or pr.gov.
We must continue helping Puerto Rico get back on its feet. Personally, I will continue fighting down here in Washington D.C. If you live outside my district, or outside New York, I urge you to contact your Representative in Congress or Senator to urge him to give this issue the attention it deserves. Should you need additional assistance, please contact my office at 718-620-0084.
Congressman José E. Serrano