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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Demands Meeting with FEMA Administrator One Year After Hurricane Maria

Sep 20, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), members of CHC leadership, and the CHC Puerto Rico Task Force, sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long and Tito Hernandez, Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer at the Puerto Rico Joint Field Office.  The letter requests a meeting to discuss what immediate steps FEMA and the federal government are taking to assist in Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery efforts, and what concrete plans the agency is taking to ensure the poor response to this tragedy and loss of life that followed Hurricane Maria never happens again.

The letter was also signed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus First Vice Chair Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20); Second Vice Chair Congressman Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Whip Congressman Pete Aguilar (CA-31) and Freshman Representative Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13); Congressman José E. Serrano (NY-15); Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07); Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04); Congressman Darren Soto (FL-09); Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (AZ-03).

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

 

September 20, 2018

The Honorable William B. “Brock” Long
Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC  20472
 
Justo "Tito" Hernandez
Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer
Puerto Rico Joint Field Office (JFO)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC  20472

Dear Administrator Long and Mr. Tito Hernandez:

We thank you for meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last December to discuss the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recovery efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. This month marks the one year anniversary of Maria making landfall in Puerto Rico, cutting a path of death and destruction that devastated the Island and its nearly three and a half million residents. Although twelve months have passed, we are extremely alarmed that many Puerto Rican survivors of Maria, both on the Island and in the 50 States, continue to face serious challenges. We urgently request a meeting with you to discuss what immediate steps FEMA and the federal government are taking to address Puerto Rico’s continued suffering, and what concrete plans your agency is making to ensure the tremendous loss of life that followed Maria is not repeated ever again.

Further, we have numerous questions regarding reports that the disbursement of federal funds to Puerto Rico have been extremely slow, and that the agency has decided to reject requests to extend the full federal cost share for much of FEMA’s ongoing work. Funding by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Medicaid, and FEMA are critical to Puerto Rico’s recovery. Many families whose homes were damaged or destroyed have not been made whole, and families who were displaced are being cut off from aid to defray the expense of living in temporary housing. Medical care and basic services are still inadequate to service the Island’s population. Significant debris remains throughout the Island, and more than half of the work orders to ensure homes are habitable have yet to be completed. The economy, infrastructure, electrical grid, and civic institutions are still rebuilding a year after the storm. It is clear that more must be done to assist Puerto Rico’s recovery.

In August, independent research conducted at the George Washington University (GWU) on behalf of the Commonwealth’s government revealed that the death toll from Maria was far higher than the official death toll of 64. In the six months following Maria, the study counted 2,975 deaths attributable to the storm and the chaos that followed.  This is a greater death toll than any modern hurricane anywhere in the United States. Multiple independent studies have reached the same conclusion as the GWU study, that thousands of Americans lost their lives following the devastation from Maria. However, President Donald Trump recently made numerous statements on Twitter denying this death toll, touting his Administration’s response to Maria as an “unsung success,” and blaming Democrats for inflating the death toll to make him look bad. These comments are downright offensive to the thousands of families who lost loved ones after Maria. We were also terribly disappointed to hear Mr. Long’s comments on national TV questioning the validity of studies’ findings on Hurricane Maria and claiming that the studies “are all over the place.” The Trump Administration’s inability to acknowledge facts and continued attempts to distort reality about recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, erodes public trust that the government will come to the aid of its citizens after a disaster.

Never again can we let so many U.S. citizens suffer while the President and Executive branch remain so publicly disinterested.  Therefore, as the leadership organization for Hispanic Members of the House and Senate, we respectfully request you to meet with the Caucus to follow up on these important matters.

 

Sincerely,

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