Almost Two Years After Hurricane María Devastated Puerto Rico, Funds and Support Needed from Congress and the Federal Government Are still Lacking While Government Drowns in Debt Repayment
Washington, D.C. - Over 100 people from 13 states and Puerto Rico came to Washington, D.C., today as part of the Take Action 4 Puerto Rico! Campaign to urge members of Congress to make good on their promise and responsibility to help rebuild the island. In spite of the damage and rebuilding estimates ranging from $90 - $120 billion, Congress has allocated $42.7 billion in relief funds, of which less than $20 billion has reached the island.
The request came during dozens of visits today to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress to discuss Puerto Rico’s current situation two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island and left a death toll of at least 3,000 people.
"It is shameful and inconceivable that two years after the unprecedented devastation of Hurricane Maria, we are still having to ask for the aid that was appropriated by Congress,” said José Calderón, President of Hispanic Federation. “This administration has usurped the power of Congress and in the process has put at risk the lives of tens of thousands of American families living in Puerto Rico. We call on Congress to investigate this illegal abuse of power."
Almost two years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s infrastructure - its energy grid, health care, transportation, housing, and social services system - have mostly received band-aids instead of the long-term fixes that are desperately needed. One example of the inadequate recovery support the island has received is that today 30,000 homes in Puerto Rico still have blue tarps instead of roofs to shelter its families. Recent close calls with other severe weather events like Hurricane Dorian exposed how ill-prepared the island is to withstand additional storms that are guaranteed to come.
The group, which visited over 60 congressional offices, is also asking for more transparency and public involvement of Puerto Ricans in the reconstruction process as prerequisites for the process of a just recovery, and a moratorium on debt payments until an independent audit of the debt has been conducted.
After the first visits to Capitol Hill, members of Congress recommitted to Puerto Rico’s cause.
“It is shameful that two years after Hurricane Maria and Irma, Puerto Rico is still unable to access more than $18.4 billion in federally appropriated resources,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “And the news that President Trump is raiding $400 million in Hurricane Maria recovery projects just so he can fund the construction of his ineffective, expensive border wall is another gut punch to our fellow Americans still struggling to rebuild their lives. It was clear then, and it’s clear now that this administration is purposefully and unacceptably singling out Puerto Rico. Democrats will continue to fight tooth and nail for Puerto Rico.”
“To this day, thousands of Puerto Rican families still struggle to rebuild homes, restore their infrastructure, and reclaim a sense of normalcy that Hurricane Maria stole from them while the Trump Administration refuses to help them recover,” said Sen. Bob Menendez. “Let’s be clear: Congress gave nowhere near $92 billion for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Partisan battles left the island with less than half that sum – and most of it remains held hostage by the Administration. Two years after a tragic natural disaster, it’s time to end chronic neglect of 3.3 million American citizens by this Administration and usher in a new era of equality, opportunity, and dignity for Puerto Rico. Because at least until 2020, Donald Trump is the President of ALL Americans, not just the ones wearing silly red hats.”
“Two years after Maria made landfall, we must recommit ourselves to ensuring the Island is made whole. Puerto Ricans have endured thousands of deaths, enormous destruction and the longest blackout in American history. Yet, through it all, their spirit has proven unbreakable. Today, we are sending a message that we will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico and we will not rest until the Island receives the assistance it needs,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez.
“Every American should be outraged about the conditions our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are living in. No one should be waiting for housing and schools two years after a disaster. Puerto Rico deserves a fair and just recovery that prioritizes investments to help its people, not obstruction of relief funding by President Trump. The island’s debt must be audited and the restrictions on food stamps and medical care must be immediately lifted. Boricuas, like all Americans, are entitled to a commitment by our federal government to rebuild their communities without further delay.” said Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García.
“This administration has failed our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico at every turn. It’s been two years since Hurricanes Maria and Irma ripped through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They were some of the worst storms we’ve experienced in our country in recent years, devastating families and destroying communities. Congress allocated billions of dollars to help Puerto Rico begin rebuilding, but the corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration has stopped this money from getting to the people who desperately need it,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “This is inexcusable and shameful. We must release all funds to start rebuilding, and I will continue to fight to make Puerto Rico stronger than it was before the storm.”
“The Trump administration failed the people of Puerto Rico two years ago – in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria – and it is still failing them today. Almost two years later, the situation on the island remains desperate – blue tarps still acting as makeshift roofs, delayed approval of projects to rebuild schools and critical infrastructure, a fragile electrical grid prone to power loses, and people left vulnerable and ill-equipped for another natural disaster. Deliberate, discriminatory burdens placed on HUD and FEMA disaster relief funding by the Trump administration are hindering recovery efforts that are already underfunded and unacceptably delayed. I am proud to join this coalition of lawmakers and advocates in fighting for the full funding and resources necessary to fulfill our solemn obligation to our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
The demands of the Take Action for Puerto Rico! coalition and its allies include: • Demand the federal government and Trump Administration stop intentional interference and obstruction of the will of Congress. • Demand radical democratization and transparency of the recovery process, as a means to advance a just recovery and minimize corruption, fraud, and west Puerto Rico! • Demand an immediate, independent audit of Puerto Rico’s debt, and support a mechanism for territories to discharge their debt which should not be prioritized or come before basic needs such as housing, energy, healthcare, public health, and education.
Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster in the island’s history, killing at least 3,000 people and causing millions of dollars in infrastructure, economic, and social damage in 2017.
“It’s essential for the government to connect to the community groups in order to break through the barriers that bureaucracy, corruption, and political agendas have built after this recent natural disaster. These have not only become a waste of funds but also created a greater division between the people and the government aid agencies,” said Mark Patrick Martin ViequesLove, Operations Director.
“For the last two years, Power 4 Puerto Rico has been working nonstop to ensure that Congress, the media and public are aware of not only the multiple crises threatening Puerto Rico’s future but also, more importantly, the solutions the people of Puerto Rico are putting on the table,” said Erica González, Director of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition. “Members of Congress should join the call for a moratorium on the island’s crushing debt payments, support a full and independent audit of the island’s debt, and refrain from increasing federal control of Puerto Rico, especially in the face of a hostile Administration.”
“To achieve a successful recovery, it is necessary to establish structured plans, including civic engagement, effective government involvement and the inclusion of nonprofit organizations during the process,” said Elizabeth Colón Rivera, Executive Director, Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services Inc.
Jessie Fuentes, Co-Chair, and Melissa Mark-Viverito said on behalf of Puerto Rican Agenda Chicago said that "an independent, comprehensive audit of the debt and a moratorium on the debt needs to happen - and happen now - and Congress must support it. In order to rebuild Puerto Rico, we must grapple with the fact that the biggest constraint to the recovery of Puerto Rico is the debt. No more anti-democratic mechanisms which dismiss community engagement and the ability for impacted communities to determine priorities."
“Two years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of families are still coping with the issues that predate the storm, such as vulture funds preying on the island’s public debt, and devastating cuts on health and education services. It’s time for members of Congress to take up their responsibility to push for measures that will help bring about a just recovery,” said Javier Cuebas, Executive Director of VAMOS4PR Action, a stateside network fighting for a fair economy for Puerto Ricans. “Puerto Ricans are strong. We are resilient. Now we need Congress to cancel the public debt, invest in our communities, and let us determine our own future.”
“We’ve joined hundreds of others today to tell Congress members that they need to take up their responsibility to ensure that Puerto Rico gets a just recovery, one that puts the people before corporations, and puts the power in their hands in order to decide a sustainable future. We want mechanisms for more community control over what happens to recovery funds, public and timely access to information about how recovery funds are to be used, and the opportunity to bid recovery projects. We are also calling for a Green New Deal for Puerto Rico so that we can better prepare for future climate change threats and build a resilient economy for generations to come. Puerto Ricans are ready and able to work to rebuild their homes, but they need fair access to the resources to do so.” said Edil Sepulveda, co-founder of Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora.
About Take Action 4 Puerto Rico!
Take Action 4 Puerto Rico! campaign is possible, thanks to Hispanic Federation bringing together people and organizations to encourage discussion and take action around critical issues for Puerto Rico’s recovery.
Founded in 1990, Hispanic Federation (HF) uses its network of 100+ member agencies and close linkages with grassroots leaders and policymakers at all levels, to advance the interests and aspirations of Latino communities. HF has gained national recognition and prominence for its work in the areas of education, health, immigration, civic engagement, disaster relief, economic empowerment, philanthropy & the environment. In addition, as the largest post-Maria, institutional funder in Puerto Rico, Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOSDisaster Relief and Recovery Fund are serving the immediate and long-term needs of communities across the island.