In the absence of presidential leadership, Congress must help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria
A month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, almost the entire island is still in the dark, most communication infrastructure is down, a third of the population does not have access to water. clean water and thousands of people who lost their homes still live in shelters. A third of the hospitals on the island run on generators. With limited access to energy and basic necessities, daily life is a challenge and tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave the island. It is a time of crisis and a test of leadership. And after a month it’s fair to say it’s a test the president failed.
The president has shown a shocking lack of empathy for the 3.4 million American citizens who are suffering in Puerto Rico. He threatened to withdraw needed assistance, his trip to the island was delayed and condescending, and his lack of attention to the devastation during the first few days left urgent needs unmet and problems worsened. Even today, the problems seemingly remain intractable, not because of the hard work done by federal government employees on the island, but because our leaders seem to lack interest or the will to respond.
The short-term response is not inadequate due to a lack of resources. Last week, the House of Representatives finally approved additional disaster relief legislation that includes nearly $ 20 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund for Hurricane Response, a loan from $ 4.9 billion to ensure the government of Puerto Rico remains solvent and over $ 1.25 billion for additional nutritional assistance to island residents that will bring the island the much-needed relief . While this is a decent temporary measure, it will take a lot more to bring Puerto Rico back to normal. We need a President who is ready to give this crisis the attention it deserves.
The current crisis in Puerto Rico calls for comprehensive and sustained action. Immediately after Hurricane Maria, I urged the Trump administration to create a presidential task force – similar to the one created in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – to coordinate and support the reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. and in other states and territories affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey. There has been no response yet.
In the absence of executive leadership, we in Congress must find other ways to help Puerto Rico move forward. Hopefully, Mr. President Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows his power Cheney shoots Trump: “I love Republican presidents who win re-election” Cheney allies flock to his defense against the Trump challenge MORE(R-Wis.) ‘S trip to Puerto Rico last week and his pledge to fight for more help will help in that regard. Three areas that require immediate attention: the complete restoration and improvement of the island’s electricity network, the re-establishment of its telecommunications networks and the resolution of the island’s public health crisis.
Even before Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, the island was plagued by an outdated and inefficient energy infrastructure system. Most of this system has yet to be restored and the energy infrastructure needs to be completely rebuilt. This should be an opportunity to reorganize and upgrade the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the entire energy system. On the telecommunications front, many localities and individuals still cannot communicate with the rest of the island or their loved ones. In areas where the service is somewhat available, it is both limited and inefficient. People often lack phone or internet signals at home and have to travel to specific places to do so, or simply wait hours for services to improve. The federal government must do more to support the restoration of telephone and Internet service throughout the island as quickly as possible. A very limited electricity and telecommunications system impacts the ability of businesses, schools, hospitals and other entities to operate, pay their employees, and coordinate with FEMA on needed services and supplies. . In short, this infrastructure is also essential for the effective implementation of recovery efforts.
In addition, without focusing more on responding to urgent public health needs, Puerto Rico is facing a health crisis. Some hospitals currently offer limited health care services due to lack of access to full power, medication and adequate resources. There is also a serious threat of the spread of infectious diseases resulting from both waterborne diseases and insects. The federal government should ensure that individuals have access to fully functioning hospitals and doctors across the island, as well as medication and clean water to minimize the spread of dangerous diseases. Immediate consideration must also be given to inequalities in federal health funding and the exodus of health professionals from the island in order to ensure a stable health system in the long term.
In times of crisis, our nation comes together to help the most vulnerable among us. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, as members of the American family, should not be treated any differently. President Trump’s actions, or lack thereof, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria failed to deliver on that commitment and damaged the immediate work that must be undertaken to rebuild after a disaster of this magnitude. The federal government has a duty to stand with our fellow Americans residing in the territories as they recover from this crisis and rebuild for the future – and that is exactly what we will do in Congress.
Representative José E. Serrano has represented the Bronx, New York City in Congress since 1990 and is the oldest member of Puerto Rican descent. He is a senior member of the House appropriations committee.