On October 24, 2017, the Senate voted on national disaster relief legislation, and the following Senators gave statements regarding Puerto Rico: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Patricia Murray (D-WA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY),
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):
Now, Mr. President, one final word here on wildfires, which I know my colleague from California is ready to speak about. She has seen the damage and is working so hard to help the people of her State. So we are going to talk about wildfires, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. First, we can’t forget about the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who continue to suffer the terrible effects of Hurricane Maria, the strongest storm to hit the island in a century. It has been more than a month since Maria, and 75 percent of Puerto Rico is still without electricity, only a third of the island’s cell sites are functional, and many who have diseases like diabetes and other diseases or who are in need of dialysis have been unable to receive their specialized treatments and medication.
One million Americans in Puerto Rico are suffering without access to clean water. We have seen the pictures of them drinking sewage and water from Superfund sites. I read this report that they have accidentally used wells located in one of the most contaminated Superfund sites, Dorado, to get water, because they are so desperate. I have called on the White House to put a point person in charge of the recovery, and I repeat that request today. The administration should appoint a CEO for response and recovery for Puerto Rico, someone with the ability to bring all the necessary Federal agencies together, cut red tape on the public and private side, turn the lights back on, get clean water flowing, and help bring recovery. It is a national tragedy that deserves the most organized and efficient response. A CEO for response and recovery with a direct line to the President in the White House would help get the house in order.
Now, at the same time, we can’t forget the devastation brought by wildfires out West. A group of Senators will be speaking on the floor today— my colleague from California is about to do just that—in support of swift passage of disaster aid for those regions, and I wholly support the effort. As the number of forest fires and the cost of fighting these fires has risen dramatically, it has left the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior at a severe funding deficit. This has forced the Forest Service to take money from other accounts within the agency to cover the firefighting deficit, in a process called fire borrowing. Fire borrowing prevents the agency from carrying out its other missions, including investing in forest fire prevention. As we have seen, the terrible forest fires rage across the West, hitting so hard the State of California, which my colleague is going to address. We must take action and provide the Forest Service with a long-term wildfire funding fix. Some Members want to bog down this process with environmental and forest management riders, but I stand with Secretary of Agriculture Perdue and others who have called to simply fix the funding problem, without riders, to allow the agency to carry on its mission.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA):
Mr. President, I thank the minority leader, Senator SCHUMER, for his words of emphasis on the need to ensure that not only do our fellow Americans in Florida and Texas receive the relief they so dearly and sorely need but also that our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well, receive the relief they need and receive the priority they deserve…
I spoke with DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and confirmed that ICE will suspend immigration enforcement in the area until further notice. It is our belief, and it is our understanding as Californians, that notice will be clear as to when this effort will end, in terms of not enforcing immigration. We want to be clear when it is going to start so we can tell Californians because right now they are trusting DHS’s word that this immigration enforcement has been suspended. We are told that FEMA, through Elaine Duke, will also support emergency packages that provide disaster relief for the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL):
Mr. President, just as the Senator from California has outlined the needs of her State, having been hit by a natural disaster, so, too, natural disasters, not wildfires—although we have had plenty in Florida— but hurricanes have hit other States. Yesterday, this Senator spoke at length about the effects on a particular industry, the citrus industry. I showed pictures of 75 percent to 90 percent of the fruit on the ground. This Senator made a unanimous consent request to include a bipartisan amendment to get money for agriculture, not just in Florida but Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the wildfires in California into the package—specifically, about $3 billion for agriculture. The losses in Florida’s agriculture are $2.5 billion, of which three-fourths of a billion is just losses to citrus growers.
That is all the bad news because the unanimous consent request was rejected. The good news is, although the White House rejected it, they made a promise to put it in a continuing supplemental emergency appropriations in November for all these natural disasters and get that funding in there for agriculture. Some of us on both sides of this aisle, in order to make sure that promise is kept, have put a hold on the nominee for Deputy Budget Director. I will take the White House at its word, and this ought to all be worked out in November. That was the subject of my address to the Senate yesterday, along with my colleague Senator RUBIO from Florida, as we talked about the losses particularly to agriculture.
Today I want to talk about how a month after the hurricane in Puerto Rico and 2 months after the hurricane in Florida, the aftermath is not going so swimmingly because people are not getting the assistance they need. Mind you, this is 2 months after the hurricanes. People lost all the food in their freezer because they didn’t have any power. They are supposed to get assistance in order to be able to buy food. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and you don’t have a paycheck, you don’t have any money to buy food. Therefore, you should get financial assistance from FEMA and the USDA. Yet you ought to see the lines in Miami, in Orlando, in Tampa, and in Belle Glade, and then they are cutting off the lines. The people who are getting cut out are going without food. So we have a long way to go. The USDA’s Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called D–SNAP, is supposed to help all of our people recover from losses incurred by Irma by making short-term assistance available. It is especially important for families who are low income, who don’t have income, or they are not getting a paycheck. Now they are saddled with unexpected repairs like a storm-damaged roof. They spent money evacuating or they lost wages during the storm, or they lost power and lost all the food in their freezer. Some people buy food in bulk because they can get it cheaper and store it in the freezer. Then, bam. It is all gone because there is no power…
I say to my friend from New Jersey, if what is going on in Florida isn’t bad enough, what about Puerto Rico? Right now, more than a month after the hurricane, 80 percent of the island still doesn’t have power. I didn’t go into the urbanized parts of San Juan, although I was there and did look around; I flew into the mountains, into the little town of Utuado. For 21⁄2 weeks, they were cut off. They didn’t have a road to get up there for 21⁄2 weeks. I say to my friend from Washington, in Puerto Rico, would you believe that over a month after the hurricane, 30 percent still do not have potable water? In Utuado, in the mountains, I saw them going up to a pipe to get water that was flowing down through the mountains. This wasn’t necessarily potable water, but it was the only thing they had. They were lining up with their plastic jars and plastic buckets. Hospitals in Puerto Rico are rationing services. They are forgoing optional operations. They are making difficult decisions on prioritizing patients because of limited medication, and limited facilities, fuel, communications, and power. Dialysis centers are desperate to get clean enough water so that they can process the dialysis for kidney patients.
Clearly, more needs to be done to help the people of Puerto Rico in addition to the people in Florida and all the other States. I urge my colleagues to remember the plight of Americans trying to put their lives together after a major disaster. We have heard the Senator from California make a plea about the wildfires. You have heard this Senator make a plea for Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. We have heard the Texas delegation make a plea for Texas. We all have to come together in this time of need and pass a robust and comprehensive aid bill. We hope the White House will be true to its promise that the additional aid, particularly for agriculture, will be put in the November emergency supplement. There should be absolutely no ambiguity that the Federal Government intends to provide all the necessary assistance to make our people whole.
Sen. Patricia Murray (D-WA):
As we speak, millions of Americans are working to put their lives back together after what has been an especially devastating series of disasters, from hurricanes that caused unprecedented flooding, which the Senator from Florida just spoke about, the catastrophic damage there, to deadly wildfires that have scorched communities across the West. From Santa Rosa to San Juan, there are countless families who need a hand up right now, and we have to be there for them, including our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, where a vast majority of families on the island are still without power or access to clean water, as we just heard. I am glad we will soon take up a relief package to send resources to help our neighbors in need, many of whom have lost everything. I am glad, as you will hear from many of our colleagues on the floor today, that this is not the end of our commitment to those affected by these recent disasters but, rather, a down payment on what we know will be a very long road to recovery for many devastated regions. But I challenge my colleagues to do one better. Not only could we address the longstanding fisheries disaster that continues to cause hardship for the men and women of our fishing industry and our Tribal communities, we could also fix the flawed way this country fights wildfires.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ):
Mr. President, I am grateful to be joining with a lot of my colleagues today to talk about the urgency and the importance of what has happened in the aftermath of horrific hurricanes—Hurricane Harvey more than 2 months ago and Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria over a month ago. They have wreaked havoc on millions of lives. They have destroyed billions of dollars of property. They have created pain, suffering, and loss—loss of life everywhere from Texas, to Florida, to Puerto Rico, to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Right now, too many of our citizens are still living in not just unacceptable conditions for an American, but they are really living on the brink of homelessness—food and water insecurity, scarcity, and facing the ravages of poverty, where you have lost everything and you are in a dependent state, dependent upon relief aid, dependent upon your neighbors…
Let me tell you about Puerto Rico. As my friend from Florida said, 80 percent of their island remains without power. I saw firsthand what 1 week without power did in my community. It literally led to the deaths of people— not the storm itself, but the lack of power was directly related to the deaths in the city of which I was mayor. There are people who don’t have access to things we take for granted, whether it be a bank account or food. It was profoundly stated by my colleague that just access to clean water—right now, there are people who are falling ill and dying in Puerto Rico because of a lack of access to clean water. Sanitation systems, water, roads, bridges, electric grids—all of these urgently need Federal investment. One of my staffers has a son who is a medic in the Puerto Rico National Guard, and he has told her that people in hospitals have died. The loss of life, the loss of American lives—our fellow citizens have died because of their lack of access to electricity and the lack of access to oxygen.
We are Americans. I know our character. I know our spirit. But right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people in our country who are suffering. They may not be proximate to us in geography; they may not be next to us in sight. But the spirit we need right now is the spirit of that man standing in the storm, watching over his neighbors, watching over people passing through, being there for their own. We have work to do. We have an urgency. Where children are suffering without the basics, where schools are closed, where crops have been destroyed, where access to food has been destroyed, we have work to do. So my sense of urgency right now is believing that, as a first step, we must have a comprehensive aid package—not just to help our fellow Americans in Florida and Texas where there are urgent crises still going on. The gravity of the pain and suffering in the Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico right now is unimaginable for those of us who are not experiencing it, and it is unacceptable for us, as Americans, not to be there for our fellow citizens.
We are just 5 days away from the fifth anniversary of the storm that hit New Jersey, and we have made great strides in New Jersey over the past 5 years. But the reality is that today in New Jersey, we are still recovering from that storm. This is going to be a long process, an urgent process. It is going to be a process that necessitates resilience, necessitates endurance, and necessitates persistence. But it starts with this body, the Congress of the United States of America, putting together an aid package that includes direct grant funding for rebuilding our country. For Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it must include making sure the island is strong enough. From telecommunications, to energy sources, to schools, we must make sure that the aid package includes all that is necessary for these islands to stand up again and get to work for the many months and years to come of rebuilding. I support my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I am encouraged by the spirit I encountered that night, having a Democratic President and Republican Governor call me as concerned Americans. But the spirit I call on tonight is that of the elderly Black guy on a street in a storm who said: The storms may howl; the rain may come; the water may rise. But when it comes to my country, I will stand for America and stand for Americans.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX):
Nearly 2 months after the hurricane—the most extreme rain event in U.S. history—many Texans are still waiting for normalcy to return to their debris-littered lawns and their torn-up living rooms, to their daily routines, their workplaces, their children’s schools. The waters may have receded, but their troubles have not. I have read, for example, about people having to wait 2, 3, or 4 hours before they can actually even speak to Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, representatives, who themselves are overwhelmed with requests that are related not only to Hurricane Harvey but to Hurricane Irma’s devastation in Florida and to Maria’s flooding in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Never before do I remember a series of natural disasters hitting our Nation in such quick succession.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT):
Mr. President, I want to begin by paying tribute to the people of Puerto Rico, who have been through unimaginable disaster—a natural disaster not of their making and a financial disaster that is not any more their fault than the hurricane they have endured. They have persevered and, indeed, now are surviving and even thriving, despite the hurdles placed in their way by the humongous storm that destroyed parts of their island. In fact, even now, at least a quarter of their water is undrinkable, more than 80 percent of their electricity is down, many of their roads are unpassable, their schools are largely closed, and their island is paralyzed or, at least, largely paralyzed as far as economic progress and job creation are concerned. They don’t deserve this fate. They are Americans. They fought in our wars. I have been privileged to spend time with the Borinqueneers and led the effort to award them a Congressional Gold Medal as a sign of their patriotism and their dedication to our country.
They are not only Americans; they are patriotic Americans. So, too, are the first responders, military, and others from States around the country who have gone to Puerto Rico to help with relief. I want to recognize their courage, sacrifice, and service to our Nation. The National Guard from Connecticut has gone to the island to help with National Guard from at least 13 States. There are thousands of them now, and they are working with men and women on the ground from FEMA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security generally, and our military. They deserve our thanks. Yet, for all that heroic work, this Nation is failing Puerto Rico. Americans are on the verge of failing fellow Americans. Puerto Rico has a population of about 3.4 million people, roughly the size of Connecticut. If the humanitarian crisis now ongoing in Puerto Rico had occurred in Connecticut, there would be an outcry and outrage of unprecedented proportion, comparable to a public surge of criticism unseen before. Yet the people of Puerto Rico endure this humanitarian crisis seemingly without response.
The President of the United States gives himself a 10. I agree. He deserves a 10 if the grading scale is 1 to 100 because barely one-tenth—in fact, less than one-tenth of what this Nation owes to Puerto Rico—has been done for them. I flew over the island of Puerto Rico in a Sikorsky Black Hawk during a recent bipartisan trip and saw out of the side of that Black Hawk the devastation and destruction I never thought I would see in America. Whole towns were flattened, homes razed to the ground, community centers destroyed, power lines dangling and down. I heard from the Corps of Engineers that there is no timetable to repair those lines, to restore electricity, which is the lifeblood of civilization and essential to bare economic functioning, let alone progress going forward, which is what the island needs. From what I hear, which families have told me, the shortages of food, water, and medicine persist. The hospitals depend on generators that are sometimes nonfunctional, and medicine is lacking in those hospitals.
What is at stake in Puerto Rico is really our humanity. In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, what is challenged is our humanity, not just the legality or the protocols but our basic instinct to help fellow Americans when they need it. This Nation should not have a double standard for disaster relief. The Americans of Puerto Rico deserve what Connecticut would receive. I have stood in Connecticut with our Puerto Rican community. We are proud of the fact that we have more Puerto Ricans per capita than any other State in the country. That community has given back to Connecticut and has contributed to our quality of life. And we are proud of all of our Puerto Ricans who came from the island in past generations or recently. I stood with Gladys Rivera, who lived in Connecticut, went to Puerto Rico, and has just come back; with the Bermudez family, who have deep ties and family there and here; with Jason Ortiz, who is in charge of the Puerto Rican Agenda. And I could list many others. They have given me a picture of the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico that speaks to my heart—families who continue to suffer and endure these hardships.
The measure we are passing today is a tiny down payment on what is needed for Puerto Rico. It is a short-term, very small sign of what we owe. It is a down payment that must be followed by a much bigger long-term commitment, a Marshall Plan that will enable the island to not just repair the power lines or the roads but to rebuild with different kinds of power—renewables and solar—and not be dependent on diesel or coal. It will enable them to build stronger, more resilient structures, whether homes or commercial buildings, that can withstand future hurricanes. What is needed in Puerto Rico is not just repair but true rebuilding and recovery—and not just the physical structures but the sense of financial stability and pride. So the pittance in this supplemental for Puerto Rico is the least we can do. In fact, it is less than the least we can do because it actually adds to the debt Puerto Rico now has. It adds $5 billion to the $74 billion that is owed by Puerto Rico. It does nothing about the bankruptcy of PREPA, the power company. It in no way alleviates the financial burdens of debt; in fact, it adds to it.
Instinctively, we in this Chamber know we have an obligation to do more. There have been enough reports to fill this RECORD today about the courage of Puerto Rico and about the burdens it has to endure. We have seen and heard enough to know that a longer term plan is necessary, a Marshall Plan. Stronger leadership is necessary. Leadership has been lacking. I have proposed a disaster relief czar who can cut through the red tape and the bureaucratic lack of cohesion and get this job done, someone who can tell the Corps of Engineers what the deadlines are and bring together the leadership of Puerto Rico and give them the empowering authority in resources, not just in words. I also call for the CDC to be engaged more actively and effectively because Puerto Rico now faces a potential epidemic of mosquito-borne diseases: Dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya. The standing pools of water throughout the island—and I have seen them—pose a real public health threat at a time when the island is ill-equipped to deal with it.
I have begun working with my colleagues on a longer term plan because this measure must be followed by stronger, more robust steps. The damage done to the island was in the range of $100 billion. That is a rough estimate. That $100 billion must not only be reinvested, it must be used to provide resilience—real investment, real rebuilding. That is what is necessary for Puerto Rico. I hope to return and visit again shortly, but in the meantime, the voices and faces of our fellow Americans there come to us clearly through my friends and neighbors in Connecticut who have joined with me in this call for real action and real rebuilding and real investment much more than this short-term down payment which will shortchange the island if we do no more. It must be simply a first step that we owe our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY):
Right now, we are in the midst of another spending frenzy. People will say: Well, we are spending the money for something good. We are going to help those in Puerto Rico, in Texas, and in Florida. My point is, if we are going to spend money to help someone in need, maybe we should take it from another area of spending that is less in need. I think that just simply borrowing it— even for something you can argue is compassionate—is really foolhardy and may make us weaker as a nation. Admiral Mullen put it this way. He said: The No. 1 threat to our national security is our debt. In fact, most people who follow world politics—while we do have problems around the world— don’t really see us being invaded anytime soon by an army or an armada, but people do see the burden of debt. So what we have before us is a bill, $36 billion, much of it going to Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida. My request is very simple: We should pay for it…
People here will say they have great compassion, and they want to help the people of Puerto Rico and the people of Texas and the people of Florida, but notice they have great compassion with someone else’s money. Ask them if they are giving any money to Puerto Rico. Ask them if they are giving money to Texas. Ask them what they are doing to help their fellow man. You will find often it is easy to be compassionate with somebody else’s money, but it is not only that. It is not only compassion with someone else’s money, it is compassion with money that doesn’t even exist, money that is borrowed. Of the $20 trillion we owe, China holds $1 trillion of that. All this might be said, and you might say: We just have to help people. You are worrying too much. Do you have to talk about details? Really, all the money is being well spent. If you look back at money that has been spent before on disasters, guess what—people replace everything, including things that weren’t broken…
We have a lot of rich people here. We ought to ask these rich Senators: What have you given to Puerto Rico? What are you giving to Texas? Instead, they are giving your money. They are really not even giving your money. They are giving money they borrowed. So what am I asking? Not that we not do this. What I am asking is: Why don’t we take it from something we shouldn’t be doing or why don’t we try to conserve? So if you decided you want to help the people next door, you might say: I am not going to the movie theater. I am not going to go to the Broadway play. I am not going to the NFL game. I am going to save money by cutting back on my expenses so I can help the people next door who are struggling, the father and mother out of work, and they need my help—but you wouldn’t go to the bank and ask for a loan to help people. That is not the way it works, unless you are a government. Then common sense goes out the window, and you just spend money right and left because you are compassionate, you have a big heart, because you have the ability of the Federal Reserve just to print out more money…
There are a couple of ways you could pay for this. The first way, I tried a couple of weeks ago. We had a $15 billion bill, and I said: Why don’t we pay for it with the foreign aid, the welfare we give to other countries? Why don’t we say: You know what, it is time we looked at America first. It is time that we took care of our own. It is time that we spend money taking care of those in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, but let’s spend money that we were going to send in the form of welfare to other countries. Maybe we should take care of our own. Instead, though, the Senate voted otherwise. I forced the issue. They weren’t too happy with the amendment. I only got the vote because I was persistent and I threatened to delay things, and I was able to get a vote. Do you know how many Senators voted for this? No Democrats. No Democrats wanted to offset any spending, and 10 Republicans did. I think the vote was 87 to 10. Eighty-seven Senators voted to keep spending money without any offsets, to basically just borrow the money. Now we are having the same debate again. I have an amendment to offset the $36 billion. In all likelihood, I am not going to get an amendment vote because they don’t have time. It would take 15 minutes, and God forbid we spend 15 minutes talking about how we are being eaten alive by a $20 trillion debt. God forbid we talk about how a $20 trillion debt is an anchor around the neck of the country. God forbid. God forbid we offer an amendment and at least take 15 minutes to have an offset, to say we should pay for this money we are going to send to Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida, pay for it by taking it from some other element in the budget…
I am proposing, if we spend money on Puerto Rico and Texas and Florida, that we offset it by taking it from something that is less of a priority, from something else in the budget. If we were to cut 1 percent of the rest of the budget, we would have more than enough to pay for this. Would anybody notice 1 percent? Sure. One would have to push things around a little bit, but they would all survive. We have looked at spending, and to show you how bad spending in the Federal Government is, it gets faster each month as you get toward the end of the year. When there is only 1 month left, these bureaucrats say: Oh, my goodness, we might not be able to spend the money fast enough. So spending in the last month of the year is, actually, five times faster than in any other month of the year. In fact, in the last month of the fiscal year, not only is it five times faster, but each progressive day it gets faster. The last month of the fiscal year is September. On September 1, they spend the money like this. On September 2, it is like this. On September 3, it like this. On September 4, it is like this. It goes up every day because they are trying to shovel the money out as fast as they can. If they do not spend it all, they are afraid they will not get it next year. The common parlance is ‘‘use it or lose it.’’
We are $700 billion short in the budget, and we are simply going to print more money and send it to Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida. What I ask is, if you are going to help people, why don’t we set our priorities? Why don’t we take money from other areas of the budget where it is not needed? What I propose is that we cut 1 percent or a little bit less than that across the board. I think there is not a department of government that couldn’t deal with 1 percent less, and we would take that money and we could spend it on the emergencies in Puerto Rico and Texas.
The following Representatives gave some statements on the house floor regarding Puerto Rico: Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL).
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL):
Mr. Speaker, shortly after the President returned from his trip to Puerto Rico, I received a shipment in my office of paper towels. It didn’t come with a note or an explanation, just 12 rolls of Viva. I guess there is a little irony maybe because it is in Spanish. Maybe after watching the President entertain himself by tossing paper towels at hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, some well-intentioned person thought that giving paper towels to Puerto Ricans was an appropriate sign of respect—the gift you give to Puerto Ricans after a major disaster trying to cheer us up, Viva.
Having returned from my second trip to Puerto Rico since the hurricane, I can tell you one thing for sure: we need a lot more than paper towels from the President and this Congress. This is Loiza. I was visiting with the mayor. I want you to look at the pictures. This woman here, she has a disabled adult sleeping on a wet mattress. Yes, sleeping on a wet mattress. That is the home in which she takes care of her son. Four weeks after the hurricane, children hiding behind barricades, homes destroyed. This is Comerio where food, 4 weeks after the hurricane, because there is no food, has to be handed neighborhood to neighborhood, hilltop to hilltop, hamlet and village to village within the town.
See this? People sleep there on that bed without tarps because somehow we forgot that in a hurricane-destroyed society it might have—be a good idea to have something over your head. Of course, the President said he gave himself a 10. Tell that to the people who have lived there 4 weeks. I just came back from this trip on Saturday. I am now not surprised that the congressmen, my colleagues, are taking day trips to Puerto Rico. Yes, that is what we do as Members of Congress, we get there at 9 o’clock during the Sun of the day, and we leave by 4 before the darkness comes because, of course, there is no electricity, and then they take us on a helicopter ride around the island. That is no way to visit.
You get off the plane and off the helicopter and you stay overnight when it is pitch black because that is the way 3.4 million American citizens live 1 month after the hurricane. That is how they live. So I don’t know, maybe congressmen should stop taking day trips where they get there at 9 and leave by 4. Spend the night, get out of your comfort, and go talk to the American citizens that you are supposed to be representing. America, see this? That is a horse stable, abandoned house where people live. I met a 13-year-old girl there with her mom and her 12-year-old brother. That is where they live. See this mom and the two children? No roof over their heads. Just a little tarp to keep one part of their house and no place to sleep.
See this man right here? He lives in this abandoned house in a little tent with a 2-month-old child and his wife, disabled in a wheelchair, and no electricity to run his air tank so that he can get the vital air that he needs to sustain his life. This is what I saw, and this was without the help of the Federal Government because, if you ask for help, they will put you on a helicopter and take you on a nice tour and you will not talk or see anybody. And I know there are some in America who say they should just do this for themselves. Well, guess what? They are citizens of the United States of America. They are a colony of the United States of America. And I would just ask America—there are over half a million people on that island who are homeless, whose homes have been destroyed, and our government—here is the one question people kept asking me no matter where I went, they said: Where is FEMA? Where is the help that we expect from the most powerful and richest Nation on the Earth in this moment of despair?
And soon it will be out of the headlines, and soon it will be out of the rotation, and we will try to forget, but they will continue to suffer. I came back on a flight from Puerto Rico this past Saturday night filled with people fleeing, and I met this wonderful woman who said to me: I have my child here. I am dropping her with my sister so that she can be free. We would not allow this in Texas. We would not allow this in New Jersey. We would not allow this in Florida. We did not allow it even after a week in Katrina. Let’s not allow it in Puerto Rico either.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):
We have seen other natural disasters in the rest of the country, in Harvey and Irma and Maria and Nate, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana. So many of the people of our country devastated in a short period of time. So, in times of natural disaster, it is very important for the Federal Government to honor its social compact with the American people and to be there for them. I look forward to working in a bipartisan way for us to have the resources for FEMA to do its job and for the SBA to do its job to help businesses and homeowners recover their losses. And, again, pray; our hearts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their loved ones, their livelihoods, and some who are still in need of recovery.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL):
Finally, I understand people may want to forget the following, but we cannot, and I will not let you forget that there are millions of people across the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and there are thousands in Florida and in Texas who are still awaiting visits from FEMA. On the plane up yesterday, I was reading a 3-page-long article addressing, right in my community, the fact that people are sitting waiting for FEMA’s response. I continue to raise at the same time that these hurricanes in Texas, southwest Louisiana, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have occurred, forest fires in California and Montana and Oregon have occurred, and we haven’t addressed drought in other areas that occurred. Just last week, tornadoes occurred in Oklahoma. We have these disasters occurring.
I heard my colleague earlier today during morning hour make a presentation regarding a main burst in Detroit, Michigan, and that they don’t have in her area sufficient drinking water. We know that the Flint, Michigan, matter isn’t resolved. This past weekend, I busted a tire on a bumpy-hole road, and we need to fix our roads in this country. This Capital ought to be called the ‘‘Pothole of the World.’’ Yet we stand here day after day discussing things that are going nowhere when people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are craving electricity, opening schools with no electricity, moving people from hospitals. We need safe drinking water all over this country. They need for us to show compassion and at least some decency with reference to humanity with those concerns.