Members of Congress have continued to express their support for Puerto Rico on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives this week.
Monday on the Senate floor, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gave the following statement:
Mr. President, our friends and relatives and fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands should know that, even while we mourn and process the incomprehensible events in Las Vegas, we remain laser-focused on the needs of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and we will continue our advocacy for a more comprehensive, more sure-footed, and better coordinated response to their crisis.
The following representatives gave some remarks about Puerto Rico on the House floor: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX),and Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL).
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC):
Mr. Speaker, our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by the massacre in Las Vegas. We are blessed with courageous law enforcement. I am extremely grateful to the South Carolina National Guard for sending nearly 150 engineer soldiers to assist Puerto Rico in relief efforts after Hurricane Maria. This was a devastating storm for the people of Puerto Rico, and they have been in our thoughts and prayers each and every day. These dedicated soldiers are part of a multi-State engineer task force with North Carolina, Louisiana, and New York Army National Guards. They will be assisting in clearing roads, debris, and working to reach areas that have been deemed unreachable due to the storm. They will also work on restoring infrastructure.
As a veteran of the South Carolina Army National Guard and the father of three sons who have served in the Guard, I am grateful that our State is able to assist the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in their time of need. On my visits to San Juan, I have been very impressed by its dynamic citizens. I am very appreciative of the leadership of South Carolina Adjutant General Robert Livingston, the experienced South Carolina Army National Guard members, as well as the leadership of Governor Henry McMaster. In conclusion, God bless our troops, and we will never forgot September the 11th in the global war on terrorism.
Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today because American citizens are suffering in Puerto Rico. Twelve days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, more than half of the island’s residents are still without running water. Low-income communities have been hit especially hard. They are trying to survive through unsafe and unsanitary conditions, where the basics of life can be impossible to find. After an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, I was proud to see that America deployed every available resource the very next day at the crack of dawn to help out. But I wonder why the same response wasn’t deployed to help Americans in Puerto Rico. I call on the administration and Congress to ensure that Puerto Rico receives the emergency aid it needs now so we don’t lose more American lives to the storm. Congress must also provide real relief and aid to our brothers and sisters there. The situation in Puerto Rico is dire, and our fellow Americans are counting on us to act now.
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ):
Recently, this hit home for me. One of my district staffers had family stuck in Puerto Rico. Because Hurricane Maria knocked out power and the telephone lines, my staffer had no way of knowing whether her loved ones were alive or dead. Many constituents have contacted our offices to let us know the difficulty they were having in trying to find out whether their loved ones were safe or not and how we could help. She tried to get in touch with her family for 8 long days before hearing that they were okay. Then, when my staffer tried to book a flight for her family to get out of Puerto Rico, the only tickets available were for first class. First class. That is over $700 on a flight full of disaster evacuees. My D.C. staff did a little digging. Here is what they learned. The American people rely on the goodwill of the airlines to cap the prices of flights from disaster areas. The airlines decide when to start the cap and when to end it. The airlines decide whether to keep selling first class tickets, and the Federal Government never stops charging taxes on flights from disaster areas.
American citizens deserve better, Mr. Speaker. That is why, starting this week, I will be introducing a series of bills to ease the financial burden Americans face when escaping natural disasters. The humanitarian flight fairness package will do four things. First, it will allow the Secretary of Transportation to declare an aviation humanitarian crisis at specific airports covered by a Presidential declaration of emergency. Second, it will allow the Secretary of Transportation to mandate that airlines charge no more than the median fair price of all seats sold on that route in the prior calendar year. Third, the package would require the FAA to waive the $5.60 passenger facility charge during an aviation humanitarian crisis. And fourth, the package would require the FAA to waive the U.S. international transportation tax, which is $18 on a flight from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. American citizens, Mr. Speaker. Too often Congress reacts to crisis. It is time for us to be proactive. It is time for us to legislate before another disaster strikes. The humanitarian flight fairness package is a commonsense solution to a problem that directly affects our constituents. Mr. Speaker, I always try to deal in common sense. As a matter of fact, I have a constituent back at home who constantly reminds me of how shallow I am, so I can do nothing but rely on common sense based on this constituent’s feelings about me.
I want to thank the congresswoman again for hosting this Special Order hour, and I look forward to continue working with her as she addresses the issues faced by Americans affected by natural disasters, whether it is on the mainland or in the territories. They all are American citizens. When it benefits this Nation to have Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands be a part of the United States, it does not hesitate. But when these American citizens are in trouble, they deserve the same rights that every American citizen benefits from in this great Nation—and it is great, and we want to continue to make sure that it remains great. I continue to make the point, Mr. Speaker, that these are American citizens we are talking about. This is not foreign aid. This is not mutual aid. This is aiding American citizens in trouble, in disaster, in peril, no insulin for diabetics, no dialysis for kidney patients in two or three weeks. That is a death sentence, Mr. Speaker, and we cannot allow it to continue.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX):
Mr. Speaker, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was among one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Four major hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria—left terrible devastation in their wakes as the United States and its surrounding neighbors were hit with historically catastrophic storms. As we know far too well, these storms caused billions of dollars in damage across Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other areas in the region. Much like Hurricane Katrina, the effects of this devastation will be felt for decades. The frequency and intensity of these storms continue to be an ongoing issue for our country, and it is a problem that is only further exacerbated by global warming. Warmer oceans and extra heat in the atmosphere caused by climate change provide even more fuel for weather systems. Studies are already demonstrating that storms are intensifying significantly faster today than they did 25 years ago. Additional water vapor in the atmosphere is also leading to extreme precipitation. In fact, Hurricane Harvey brought more than 50 inches of rainfall to the Texas Gulf Coast, representing the greatest accumulation of rainfall ever recovered in the contiguous United States from a single tropical storm.
As the costs of natural disasters continue to increase, we need to be cognizant of the impact of these costs on communities all across the United States—particularly communities of color or other areas where our most vulnerable populations reside. Federal disaster response needs to be fair and equitable across the board. Communities of color suffer greatly from natural disasters as many are left without housing or jobs to return to after the storm. Low income individuals and minorities suffer even greater when these events occur, making a strong and equitable federal response that much more important. Mr. Speaker, we need to be looking at what we can do as Americans to support our fellow citizens and the steps that we can take to build more resilient infrastructure in the wake of such devastating natural disasters. Each and every American shares in the responsibility to face these natural disasters together as one nation, and we cannot afford to ignore entire segments of the population in the wake of these disasters.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX):
Mr. Speaker, I join my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus in drawing attention to this year’s catastrophic hurricane season that has severely impacted the Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this Hurricane Season. The biggest challenge for residents of the 18th Congressional District is accessing the assistance that is available to them. From getting rooms in hotels for those displaced by flood waters to finding Disaster Assistance Centers that are accessible—when so many cars were damaged by Hurricane Harvey flood waters. This past Saturday, I joined with representatives from FEMA to provide critical information to Houstonians attempting to recover from the catastrophe of Hurricane Harvey. Many of them are still waiting for home inspections and need answers regarding the appeals process and how best to utilize Home Inspection Teams.
I am calling on FEMA to create a new app to provide homeowners with instant status updates on the inspection process,’’ said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. ‘‘This app should speed up the process of scheduling FEMA inspectors for a home visit if your home has not been inspected in more than 10 days. This will help the many who are struggling to get their lives back in order. This week, FEMA announced the creation of a new housing program under the Direct Housing Assistance Program, which allows FEMA disaster relief funding to go to individual homeowners or to local governments to provide housing. To be considered for this program, people must first register with FEMA at www.DisasterAssistance.gov
Local government immediate disaster assistance housing options are as follows:
- Multi-Family Lease and Repair: Direct assistance to repair or improve existing multifamily housing such as apartments in order to provide more housing for survivors. Properties must be three or more units, with each unit providing complete living facilities for cooking, eating, and sanitation. Hotels, motels, and extended stay hotels are not eligible at this time.
- Direct Leasing: Direct Leasing: Enables local governments to lease a property that typically would not be available to the public, such as corporate lodging. Local government enters into the lease agreement on behalf of individuals or households. Various types of housing properties may be eligible. Manufactured Housing Options (Mobile Homes and Recreational Vehicles): Direct housing places manufactured housing units on private land or commercial pads. Local permitting may apply. There are conditions to receiving housing assistance, but no assistance will be available if an application to FEMA is not made. It is problematic for constituents from the 18th Congressional District, when I know that 81,950 FEMA applicants have been rejected. I know that tens of thousands are still displaced with over a 1 million cars having been destroyed by flood water it is difficult to get to the Disaster Recovery Centers. I continue to work to get more Disaster Recovery Centers opened before the October 24, 2017 deadline to make sure that FEMA resources are as accessible as possible. We know that site for housing must be suitable. There will be Hauling and installation included only for those people who have applied for FEMA assistance and have be approved to receive assistance. An inspection of the site to determine suitability will be scheduled. Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering (PREPS): PREPS provides minor repairs to homes in locations with limited housing options. For eligible properties that have incurred limited damage displacing individuals from their homes. PREPS provides basic, emergency home repairs—not to include finish work.
- Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair: Program provides partial repairs to homes with significant damages. Program can include partial repairs to a damaged home where alternative housing is not available or is not cost-effective. FEMA will determine eligibility for permanent housing construction on a case-by-case basis. All other forms of housing assistance must be exhausted before the program can be considered. Some Hurricane Harvey survivors are getting an extension to stay temporarily in hotels while they look for an alternative place to live. October 14 is the new checkout date for the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program, which pays for short-term hotel stays. All applicants for FEMA recovery assistance have the right to appeal if they are dissatisfied with FEMA’s determination letter. All appeals must be in writing and explain the reasons why FEMA’s decision may not be correct. The appeal should include any documentation that FEMA requests or that supports your claim. Appeals can be submitted via computer by opening a Disaster Assistance Center (DAC) account at ww.disasterassistance.gov. In addition to all of the needs of family are the needs of small businesses who are going to be instrumental in rebuilding our communities.
I will soon introduce a bill to provide grants of up to $100 thousand to qualified small business owners to help them with Hurricane Recovery. I thank my Colleagues of the Congressional Black Caucus for joining in this Special Order and I look forward to our efforts to meet the needs of people who are impacted by this hurricane Season. I would also like to include in the RECORD an article from Vox regarding climate change.
Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL):
We are all also heartbroken that, now, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are enduring incredibly devastating damage from Hurricane Maria. We believe it is important that we share resources with our neighboring islands. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Port of Jacksonville is ground zero for getting shipments of needed goods to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In fact, the American Maritime Partnership and the entire U.S. maritime industry are, in fact, first responders in times of emergency like Irma and Maria when they strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I am proud of what the American maritime industry has accomplished. They have been working tirelessly around the clock to get goods to those who are in need. Almost immediately, there were 10,000 containers delivered; 35,000 pounds of cargo, were delivered by TOTE and Crowley of Jacksonville. And as we know, distribution has been the challenge. Our prayers go out to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and we are prepared to stand by them as they face the daunting task of rebuilding their communities. We will continue to work together with our State, local, and Federal officials to ensure that Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands can recover and build even stronger than before.