It’s been three months since the devastation Puerto Rico faced in the wake of Hurricane Maria resulted in lost family members, destroyed entire villages, and an embarrassing disaster relief fiasco from our current administration.
The official death toll of 64 is currently under review, as almost another thousand have been reported due to the inadequate disaster response. The storm caused the longest and largest major power outage in modern American history. More than 500 people remain in shelters, according to government reports.
Three months; and what has been accomplished?
Not much, according to Westchester Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who visited the U.S. territory this October. After seeing first hand the state Puerto Rico was in, we spoke with Lowey to understand the current situation, and how we can expect it to develop in the coming months.
Back in October you said the damage you witnessed in Puerto Rico was both “significant and sobering.” How would you describe the progress we’ve made since then?
I was there with a bipartisan delegation, and when we were in Puerto Rico, we took an aerial tour of the storm-effected areas and that was really important, because up in the air you really could get an idea of the seriousness, the extent of the damages.
The administration is proposing a $44 billion disaster supplemental request from the White House that would include Puerto Rico, over to Florida, California, Texas.
Frankly, its not sufficient. When I talk to people in positions of power in Puerto Rico and colleagues who have been there on a regular basis, they say almost 50 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power. And 10 percent are still without access to safe drinking water.
We have to keep reminding ourselves that the Puerto Ricans are American citizens and it’s critical that they have the certainty that they have the federal government standing by them during this difficult time.
There are median investments that have to be made, long term investments, the restoration of ports, highways, transit systems, airports, repair of coast lines, water infrastructure, upgrading the electric grid. There are health care needs, including Medicaid, community health centers, preventing the spread of infectious disease and environmental hazards. We need to rebuild schools helping those students that are displaced.
We have a lot more work that needs to be done and the amount of money that’s been allocated just isn’t enough. More than 1,000 people have died from the storm; it’s clear to me the impact of the hurricane will be felt for generations
What things did you see on a more personal level, beyond policy, that stood out as either positive, or negative?
Let me just say as a negative, to me, that people whose homes were destroyed with the roof blown off still have wet mattresses. They didn’t have enough tarp. How could they not have enough blue tarp? How could they not deliver more water when it’s so essential?
It seems to me, basic things still haven’t been done. There’s no question that people are working hard, but there’s so much more to be done and I am committed to working with my collogues to get it done.
Is there anything you saw during your visit that you felt wasn’t discussed or properly portrayed by the media?
I will say because I’ve been interacting so much with my collogues like (Representative) Nydia Velazquez, who’s been there several times, I’ve been kept pretty up to date and I know the money that we’re going to appropriate still isn’t enough. We haven’t even appropriated the $44 billion.
How do you see this situation developing in the coming months?
Well, the Republicans can’t get their act together frankly, and it’s very tragic that we had a date of October 1 for the budget. And here it is, December, and we gave them a continuing resolution to December 8, and now it looks like we’re not even going to get our work done by then. So, this is the normal omnibus and these are supplemental funds and some of the funding that’s essential to the clinics and hospitals does come from community developmental block grant, which is in the omnibus. I do hope that rather than focus on a tax cut the Republicans can get to work and do the essentials, not just for Puerto Rico but Texas, Florida, all around the country.