Sen. Warren: 6 Months After Hurricane Maria Recovery Is Happening But ‘Too Slowly’

The following is a press release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. It was provided in English and in Spanish.

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WASHINGTON DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday, March 20, wrote a Medium post to mark six months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Six months ago today, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Recovery is happening — but too slowly. Over 100,000 people are still living without electricity. Thousands still lack drinkable water. And Puerto Rico has received only a fraction of the financial assistance it requested from the federal government. We’re still not sure how many people have permanently fled Puerto Rico due to the storm, as many have sought refuge here on the mainland with families and friends. And we may never know the true number of those who died as a result of Hurricane Maria.

In the months since the storm, I’ve fought hard to ensure the islands have the resources they need to recover, and for better federal oversight of recovery efforts. The needs there are still great, and the response from our federal government has been too little, too late.

Over 300,000 people in Massachusetts have ties to Puerto Rico — and as reports of the damage rolled in, many grew more and more concerned. Nine days after Hurricane Maria hit, I met with community leaders, local elected officials, and concerned citizens in Worcester and Springfield. They told stories of friends and family members on the island who were struggling to survive.

A few days later, I joined some of my Senate colleague at FEMA Headquarters in Washington for a full briefing on the situation in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. We kept asking, “What is the plan?” We didn’t get a good answer. Even at that early stage, it was clear there was a disconnect between what we were hearing from people on the ground, and what we were hearing from officials. Our federal government told the public there were “no unmet needs” as thousands of Puerto Ricans were struggling to survive without food, without water, without power, without medication, without a way to let loved ones know they were alive.

As Puerto Rico was trying to deal with the effects from the storm, it was also struggling with a mountain of debt. And the Wall Street vultures immediately started circling, hoping to claw back returns from federal disaster relief designated for the island. At a rally on Capitol Hill, I called for debt relief for Puerto Rico, and more assistance for the island.

From the beginning, it was difficult to get good information about the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico — including the number of fatalities. In October, I led a group of Senators and Congressmen in calling for an accurate death count. Six months later, the numbers still aren’t adding up. The official count stands at 64 — but reports show the true number probably exceeds 1,000.

In November, I met with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. She was supposed to be testifying before the House of Representatives — but Republicans on the committee canceled the hearing at the last minute. So she came by my office to give me an update on the situation in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. We talked about how the lack of electricity and access to clean water were leading to fatalities.

Later that month, I introduced a comprehensive plan with Senator Bernie Sanders and colleagues to address the humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The legislation is a “Marshall Plan” for the islands that touches on every aspect of the islands’ recovery and provides the sort of bold thinking needed to achieve a successful recovery — without forcing the territories to take on more debt.

At the beginning of 2018, I led members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation on a trip to Puerto Rico to see firsthand the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, and what else could be done to help the island’s recovery efforts. We visited a children’s hospital in San Juan. We visited a community health center, and got a briefing from officials on the island. We met with volunteers from the Massachusetts State Police, and visited a shelter in Canóvanas.

While in Puerto Rico, I saw fellow US citizens facing incredible challengess — power lines in the street, water that was making people sick, and children left homeless. People told me how difficult it’s been — and I promised I would fight for them in Congress.

I’m still fighting for Puerto Rico. I’m fighting for federal assistance to restore the island’s electrical grid, and for additional housing for people who lost their homes in the storm. I’m fighting for accessibility to mental health services, and college students who are trying to continue their educations. I’m fighting to ensure that every penny of federal disaster relief goes to those in need, not to Wall Street vulture funds. I’m fighting for Senate hearings about the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — and almost 200 organizations have joined my colleagues and me in that call. And I’ll keep fighting for disaster and debt relief for Puerto Rico.

Over the past six months, we’ve made some progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go — and I’ll be right with our brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands every step of the way.

Seis meses después del huracán Maria

Hoy, hace seis meses, el huracán María devastó a Puerto Rico y a las Islas Vírgenes de los Estados Unidos.

La recuperación de las islas ocurre, pero a paso muy lento. Más de 100,000 personas aún viven sin electricidad. A miles les falta agua potable. Y Puerto Rico ha recibido solo una fracción de la asistencia financiera solicitada del gobierno federal. Todavía no se sabe cuántas personas han huido de Puerto Rico debido a la tormenta, ya que muchos han buscado refugio en los Estados Unidos continentales con familiares y amigos. Y es posible que nunca sepamos la verdadera cantidad de personas que murieron a causa del huracán Maria.

En los meses después de la tormenta, he luchado mucho para asegurar que las islas tengan los recursos necesarios para su recuperación, y mejorar la supervisión federal de los esfuerzos de recuperación. Las necesidades allí todavía son enormes, y la ayuda de nuestro gobierno federal ha sido muy poca y muy tarde.

Más de 300,000 personas en Massachusetts tienen vínculos con Puerto Rico — y mientras llegaban los informes del daño, muchos se preocupaban cada vez más. Nueve días después del huracán Maria, me reuní en Worcester y Springfield con líderes de la comunidad, oficiales electos locales, y ciudadanos preocupados. Ellos contaron historias de amigos y familiares en la isla que luchaban por sobrevivir.

Días después, me uní a algunos de mis colegas del Senado para asistir a una sesión informativa en la sede central de FEMA en Washington sobre la situación en Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes de los EE.UU. Preguntamos, “¿Cuál es el plan?”, y no nos dieron una buena respuesta. Incluso en esa etapa inicial, era claro que había una desconexión entre lo que estábamos escuchando de la gente en las islas y lo que escuchábamos de los oficiales. Nuestro gobierno federal le dijo al público que “no existían necesidades insatisfechas” mientras que miles de puertorriqueños luchaban por sobrevivir sin alimentos, sin agua, sin electricidad, sin medicamentos, y sin una manera de informar a sus seres queridos que estaban vivos.

Mientras Puerto Rico luchaba con el impacto de la tormenta, también estaba luchando con sus deudas. Y los buitres de Wall Street inmediatamente comenzaron a rodear, con la esperanza de recobrar ganancias de la ayuda federal designada para la isla. En una manifestación en Capitol Hill, solicité alivio de la deuda para Puerto Rico, y más asistencia para la isla.

Desde el principio, fue difícil obtener buena información sobre la situación en Puerto Rico — incluso la cifra de muertes. En octubre, encabecé un grupo de senadores y congresistas pidiendo un recuento exacto de muertos. Seis meses después, las cifras aún no se suman. La cifra oficial es de 64 muertos — pero los informes indican que la verdadera cifra probablemente excede 1,000.

En noviembre, me reuní con la alcaldesa de San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz. Se suponía que ella debía testificar ante la Cámara de Representantes, pero los republicanos en el comité cancelaron la audiencia en el último minuto. Entonces, la alcaldesa vino a mi oficina para darme una actualización sobre la situación en Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes de los EE.UU. Hablamos sobre cómo la falta de electricidad y el acceso al agua potable causaban muertes.

Ese mes, también presenté un plan integral con el Senador Bernie Sanders y nuestros colegas para abordar las necesidades humanitarias en Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes de los EE.UU. La legislación es un “Plan Marshall” que aborda todos los aspectos de la recuperación de las islas y provee las ideas audaces necesarias para lograr una recuperación exitosa, sin forzar a los territorios a asumir más deudas.

A principios de 2018, encabecé un viaje a Puerto Rico con miembros de la delegación congresional de Massachusetts para ver por nosotros mismos la devastación causada por el huracán María y qué más se podía hacer para ayudar a los esfuerzos de recuperación de la isla. Visitamos un hospital de niños en San Juan. Visitamos un centro de salud comunitario y recibimos información de los oficiales de la isla. Nos reunimos con voluntarios de la policía estatal de Massachusetts y visitamos un refugio en Canóvanas.

Mientras estuve en Puerto Rico, vi a otros ciudadanos estadounidenses enfrentando desafíos increíbles: cables eléctricos en las calles, agua que le hacía daño a las personas y niños desamparados. La gente me dijo lo difícil que ha sido, y yo les prometí que lucharía por ellos en el Congreso.

Sigo luchando por Puerto Rico. Sigo luchando por asistencia federal para restaurar la red eléctrica de la isla y por vivienda adicional para la gente que perdió sus hogares en la tormenta. Estoy luchando por el acceso a los servicios de salud mental y por los estudiantes universitarios que quieren continuar con su educación. Estoy luchando para garantizar que cada centavo de ayuda federal para desastres llegue a la gente necesitada, y no a los buitres de Wall Street. Estoy luchando por audiencias en el Senado sobre los desafíos que enfrentan los sistemas educativos y de salud de Puerto Rico y de las Islas Vírgenes de los EE.UU — casi 200 organizaciones se han unido a mis colegas y a mí en esta lucha. Yo seguiré luchando por el alivio de desastres y de la deuda de Puerto Rico.

En los últimos seis meses, hemos progresado poco a poco, pero aún tenemos un camino largo por recorrer — y yo estaré justo al lado de nuestros hermanos y hermanas de Puerto Rico y de las Islas Vírgenes de los EE.UU cada paso del camino.

Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:

  • Co-sponsored a resolution by Senator Robert Menendez expressing concern about Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria and acknowledging that the federal government must do more for the island.
  • Joined her colleagues in writing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information about the draw-down of Army Corps personnel working on electricity restoration, especially on the island of Vieques.
  • Led her colleagues in writing to FEMA to and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information on federal efforts to restore the electric grid in Puerto Rico, nearly six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
  • Called on the Treasury Department to provide to Puerto Rico the full Community Disaster Loan appropriated by Congress, and to offer terms that will promote the island’s recovery.
  • Led a group of three senators in requesting information on FEMA’s plans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season following the catastrophes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Joined Senator Blumenthal in calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the contracting process for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
  • Along with colleagues from both chambers of Congress and both sides of the aisle, reminded Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board that federal relief funds for Puerto Rico are intended for disaster relief and rebuilding, not for paying creditors.
  • Urged FEMA to extend benefits for the Transitional Shelter Assistance program to Puerto Rico evacuees.
  • Requested that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security expand its review of FEMA’s contracting in Puerto Rico to include the $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for self-heating meals.
  • Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census.
  • Led her colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Food and Drug Administration highlighting the impact of drug and medical device shortages on Massachusetts medical centers after Hurricane Maria.
  • Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to request information on SAMHSA’s efforts to address mental health challenges in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Led a congressional delegation trip to Puerto Rico to conduct oversight of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
  • Led eight of her colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in writing to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to request that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • 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. (The DHS IG has said it will investigate.)
  • 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.

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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