On October 19, 2017, United States Senators sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke expressing concern about the accuracy of the death toll in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) explained in their letter that “[a]n accurate death toll is important for understanding the true severity of the situation on the ground, for recognizing potential problems and vulnerabilities, for assessing the quality of the disaster response so far, and for setting policy going forward.”
As of the day the letter was sent, the official death count was 48. The letter outlines “numerous worrying signs” that it could be higher:
- Hospital morgues are reportedly full.
- Puerto Rico’s Institute of forensic Sciences contained hundreds of corpses, though news reports were unclear on how many of those were hurricane-related fatalities.
- One hospital administrator alone reported 49 deaths after Hurricane Maria.
- In the three days after the storm, the fatality rate in one region was twice the norm
- One comprehensive compilation—which also collected the reports above—found that there have been numerous credible cases of more deaths caused by the hurricane than are officially tallied. This analysis states, “News reports cite the deaths of more than 450 additional people since the hurricane, and 69 people have been reported missing.”
The Senators closed out the letter by urging Acting Secretary Duke to provide “all necessary resource to confirm that storm-related deaths are being counted correctly, to ensure that there is sufficient cooperation with local authorities to obtain accurate information, to verify that the methodology for calculating fatalities in Puerto Rico accords with best practices and does not under count, and to report back to us on when you will be able to provide an accurate total.”
The Senators signing the letter with Senators Warren and Markey included: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
Senators Asks for food aid for Puerto Rico
On September 28, 207, another group of Democratic Senators wrote to Secretary of Agriculture George Perdue, asking for the Department to “use all available resources to swiftly provide Puerto Rico with much needed food aid”, the letter states.
In the letter, the Senators outline the following course of actions to aid Puerto Rico in this crisis:
- Assist local Puerto Rican authorities as they seek to implement Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) under the provisions of the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) for Puerto Ricans.
- Expedite the delivery of existing USDA Foods orders and replace USDA Foods warehouses damaged.
- Support efforts to establish emergency feeding centers in coordination with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Provide infant toddler formula and food and deliver it to families coordinated with FEMA.
- Resupply and reinitiate household delivery of commodities as conditions permit.
- Permit foods to be substituted in place of unavailable WIC approved foods.
- Extend the time period to report food loss through individual affidavit and replace destroyed WIC foods.
- Provide administrative flexibility to ensure that children receive meals under National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Child and Adult Cared Feeding Programs (CACFP).
The following Senators signed the letter in support: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrad (D-NY), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).