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Responding in Crisis and Recovery

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico almost one year ago it killed thousands of people. While those losses can never be recovered, the hurricane also left an entire island in need of rebuilding for those left behind. This is no easy feat. The halting and thoroughly inadequate response of the U.S. government over the last 11 months forced the Puerto Rican communities on the island and in the mainland to fight for a fair recovery while building a sustainable future for generations of Puerto Ricans.

Soon after the storm passed, Hispanic Federation began the difficult process of raising funds to aid the island and crafting a multi-pronged strategy to get Washington to give Puerto Ricans the tools they need to put the island back on solid footing.

“The U.S. government, by its own admission, was woefully unprepared for Maria,” said Hispanic Federation President José Calderón. “Making matters worse, the hurricane exposed the really significant inequalities that make it difficult for the island to get a fair share of federal resources. We understood that our response to Maria needed to combine not only immediate relief but also a reexamination of how the federal government treats the island.”

Thanks to the support of hundreds of thousands of donors from across the globe, Hispanic Federation’s Unidos Disaster Relief and Recovery Program has invested more than 25 million dollars in recovery projects throughout the island in the area of agriculture, health care, energy, housing, economic development, the environment and education.

But beyond these investments, we have spent much of the first half of 2018 working to build support for Puerto Rico’s recovery on the mainland. In January and early February we worked with allies in Congress to push for the three, main disaster-funding packages especially the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 which was approved in February and specifically designated $15 billion for recovery and rebuilding of Puerto Rico making it the largest federal allocation of relief to date. The following month, On March 20, 2018, Hispanic Federation convened over 60 advocates representing organizations from Puerto Rico, Florida, Connecticut, New York, and Washington, D.C. to meet with nearly 50 congressional offices on issues of critical importance to recovery for the island and to advocate for support for displaced Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland.

“What we have learned during this process is that some policymakers in Washington don’t have a very clear sense of how their decisions impact the island, said Laura Esquivel, HF’s National Director of Advocacy. “We are constantly reminding elected officials that Puerto Ricans are entitled to expect that their government will provide for a just and complete recovery. Nothing more, nothing less.”

As we approach the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria, we know that there is still much more to do. Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain in substandard housing and lack regular supplies of potable water and electricity. What’s more, the island’s pre-hurricane financial crisis has sharpened. During the second half of 2018, Hispanic Federation will be increasing its investments in the island’s rebuilding efforts and working with allies in Congress to promote a comprehensive financial recovery and stabilization plan for the island that includes the need for adequate federal assistance, effective help from FEMA, strong and fair oversight of recovery spending, debt relief, support for small businesses, and tax reforms and incentives.

“The road ahead won’t be easy,” Esquivel said. “But we can’t return to the past. The hurricane changed everything.”