Noting the extensive damage caused by the hurricanes to the islands’ education and public health infrastructures, the senators urged Chairman Alexander to hold hearings to address these issues and to evaluate the relief provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education, both of which fall under the HELP Committee’s jurisdiction. “Given the extent of the damage inflicted upon both territories, as well as the important roles of the departments under this committee’s jurisdiction in ongoing hurricane relief efforts, we believe such hearings would be an important part of the Committee’s oversight related to hurricane recovery,” the senators wrote. “Hearings could help ensure that the Senate has a detailed understanding of the health and education challenges facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as an understanding of how Departments under the Committee’s purview have provided relief, and how they can improve relief efforts.”
The HELP Committee has not yet held any hearings on how the two territories have been affected by the storms.
Senators Warren and Cassidy were joined by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in sending the letter.
In the months since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:
- Called for an investigation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered.
- Introduced a comprehensive plan, along with Senator Sanders and colleagues, to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.
- Led five of her Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense to request information on the Department’s efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort in the Department’s Puerto Rico response efforts.
- Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Urged Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring completely write off the Island’s debt obligations.
- Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
- Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
- Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Called for Puerto Rico’s debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
- Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
- Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
- Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
- Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
- Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.
- Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
- Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.