As Puerto Rico recovers from Hurricane Fiona’s recent damage and the lasting impacts of Hurricane Maria, Blumenthal said “We have an obligation to our fellow Americans.”
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) joined the Hispanic Federation, Take Action for Puerto Rico! and Members of Congress at a press conference calling for federal resources and assistance for Puerto Rico five years after Hurricane Maria and in the wake of new devastation from Hurricane Fiona.
“The people of Puerto Rico have courage and resilience and strength that is beyond words. And to them, I want to say you are not alone. We’re going to have your back,” said Blumenthal. “The time of throwing paper towels and counting it as action is over. We’re going to demand real action from the federal government. Not just rhetoric, but rebuilding and recovery. And to the people of America, let me just say, we have an obligation to our fellow Americans.”
As 3 million people in Puerto Rico, nearly the whole island, remain without power and nearly sixty percent of residents lack access to clean drinking water in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, Blumenthal called for a Major Disaster Declaration and urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use the $15 billion currently available in its Disaster Relief Fund to aid the island.
“We need a Major Disaster Declaration now. We need that $15 billion provided to Puerto Rico now. We need rebuilding of schools and hospitals now. We need rebuilding of the grid,” said Blumenthal. “Investment in Puerto Rico has to be done now.”
In his remarks, Blumenthal also discussed the need for strengthened oversight of FEMA to avoid the mistakes and missteps made during the recovery from Hurricane Maria. According to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report on the response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, it took an average of sixty-nine days for items such as food and water delivered to Puerto Rico to successfully reach individuals there.
“We’re going to be on FEMA like a hawk to make sure that there is delivery, actual performance. Not just rhetoric, but robust action,” emphasized Blumenthal. “In the long run, investing in Puerto Rico is investing in America and Americans.”
Today, Blumenthal also joined U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and twenty-five of their colleagues in introducing a bicameral resolution marking the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s destruction in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria is the second deadliest storm in United States history, with the official death toll standing at 2,975 victims and some academic experts estimating the toll to be as high as 4,645. It is also the third most costly tropical cyclone in our country’s history, with damages estimated to have cost more than $98 billion. This storm resulted in the complete collapse of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and triggered physical and mental health, migration, housing and infrastructure crises that the island has continued to face in the years since the storm.
Video of the press conference is available here, with Blumenthal’s remarks starting at the 36:25 minute mark. The full text of Blumenthal’s remarks is copied below.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): Thank you to Congresswoman Velázquez for her eloquence and power. Thank you to Senators Gillibrand and Schumer who have been such great champions, and to my colleague Senator Menendez who has been at the forefront of this fight and to the Hispanic Federation, Frankie Miranda and everyone.
But most of all I want to recognize the courage and strength of people of Puerto Rico. You know, I visited Puerto Rico very soon after Maria and I expected to find people in despair, without hope. The people of Puerto Rico have courage and resilience and strength that is beyond words.
And to them, I want to say you are not alone. We’re going to have your back. The time of throwing paper towels and counting it as action is over. We’re going to demand real action from the federal government, not just rhetoric but rebuilding and recovery.
And to the people of America, let me just say, we have an obligation to our fellow Americans. The time for second-class citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico is also over. They are our neighbors, our friends in Connecticut and New York and New Jersey and around the country.
The Puerto Rican community, friends, neighbors, family in Puerto Rico are going through indescribable suffering. I’ve seen it after Maria, after the tornado, the earthquakes that occurred. I’ve visited Puerto Rico many, many times. I just admire the strength and resilience of the people of Puerto Rico.
We need a major disaster declaration now. We need that $15 billion provided to Puerto Rico now. We need rebuilding of schools and hospitals now. We need rebuilding of the grid, not just rebuilding in the sense of restoring the transmission lines on poles, but a different approach to powering the island. Puerto Rico can be at forefront of renewable energy if we simply make the investment. That is the key word. Investment in Puerto Rico has to be done now.
I think having observed what happened in wake of Maria, that a lot of fault is on FEMA. We have a new FEMA now. We have new leadership with FEMA. We’re going to hold it accountable. We’re going to do the oversight. We’re going to be on FEMA like a hawk to make sure that there is delivery, actual performance. Not just rhetoric but robust action.
And let me just close by saying the share the federal government provides has to be 100%. But more than the dollars, out of FEMA fund we need real commitment to provide better tax treatment, the full SNAP program, Medicare, all of the government programs have to treat Puerto Rico equally.
In the long run, investing in Puerto Rico is investing in America and Americans. That must be a recognition that the people of the United States accept proudly. The people of Puerto Rico have talent, energy, gifts that they bring to America. This investment is in the American tradition and national interest.