On Wednesday Oct. 11, Members of the House of Representatives spoke on the House floor to express solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico.
The following Representatives gave some remarks: Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Rep. Al Green (D-TX), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL).
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL):
Mr. Speaker, it has been 3 weeks since the eye of Hurricane Maria crossed over Puerto Rico. It has been 3 weeks, and there are still parts of the island that have not had contact with FEMA yet—3 weeks. For most people, that has meant no power, and most still don’t have running water. Hospitals and clinics were hit hard, as The New York Times reports. The daughter of one man who died because he couldn’t receive oxygen treatment told the paper: ‘‘Because of the electricity situation, a lot of people died and are still dying.’’ Forty percent of the island still lacks running water because of the blackout, which still affects 85 percent of the island. As a result, many people are bathing in streams and receiving water from huge tanks, which is never a good idea.
This is after 3 weeks in the most powerful nation on Earth. This is unacceptable. Our response to Hurricane Maria and the people of Puerto Rico is a national and international embarrassment and a tragedy. They are our own citizens in our own Caribbean colonies of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and we have not helped them all that we can. I spoke to Chicago firefighters yesterday who have been in Puerto Rico for about a week, and they tell me it is worse than we are being told.
They told me yesterday that they are still making contact in towns where people come up to them and say, ‘‘Thank God, it is FEMA; you are finally here,’’ only to be told, ‘‘No, we are not FEMA; we are from Chicago; we are firefighters,’’ and they embrace and cry with gratitude. Last week, a group of my colleagues and I got together. We represent large Puerto Rican communities here on the mainland in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, and Florida. All of us have been contacted by our constituents who are in desperate need to get their loved ones back and out of Puerto Rico.
After 3 weeks, they have run out of patience and are not interested in excuses in our congressional district. They want their parents, they want their Tia with cancer, and they want their cousins on dialysis off the island, period, now. They want a plane ticket to get the hell out. Our communities are ready. Lorain, Ohio; Hartford; Boston; Orlando; New York; Chicago; we are all ready, but the problem is transportation. If you have money, connections, or internet access, then you probably can find a flight out.
I know this because I was in Puerto Rico 2 weeks ago, and I saw the Land Rovers, the Jaguars, parked at the private airports in San Juan, because if you have the money, you have already put your loved ones on a flight out of Dodge. The individuals from FEMA have been doing a great job, given the constraints, but I think now FEMA and the military resources should focus on the task of evacuating the elderly, the sick, and the vulnerable from the island. Look, this is the way FEMA works. They say: Well, we only take on tasks that the Governor asks us to take on, and the Governor is not likely to go to FEMA to ask them to get thousands and thousands of his constituents off the island.
Number one, it is a difficult request for any local official to make. Captains of industry and leaders on the island want to make sure that there are Puerto Rican workers there to rebuild, and of course, to continue to buy their products. I get that. But at the same time, those same captains of industry and political leaders, guess what, I bet you most of them have already got their loved ones off the island. Number two, we know the Governor has to be extremely careful how he asks for anything because we all know the President doesn’t take criticism very well or even a hint of criticism. The Governor doesn’t want to get blackballed by the President who might go off on a Twitter rant at any moment unless he is praised and stroked every step of the way.
But our Puerto Rican constituents don’t vote for the Governor of Puerto Rico. They vote for us, for DELAURO, for CROWLEY, for MCGOVERN, for ESPAILLAT, for MARCY KAPTUR, and they want us to help them get their families out of danger’s way. They are demanding help getting their family members out, and I think FEMA and the U.S. military can do the job. They just need the orders from the people in charge. Let’s be clear: if anyone wants to leave Puerto Rico, they should have our help in doing so. For thousands, it is a question of life and death and survival. That is what is needed to help Puerto Rico. We don’t need the President tossing paper towels to storm victims like he was tossing a ball to a dog or maybe tossing peanuts to squirrels in the park. We need airplanes, ships, and helicopters to get the people the hell out; otherwise, it will be worse than let them eat cake; it is let them die.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY):
Mr. Speaker, this is a critical time of life and death for millions of U.S. citizens on the island of Puerto Rico and also in the Virgin Islands. The efforts to rebuild will be great, and we each have a critical role to play to help these families recover following the aftermath of these catastrophic storms. We have witnessed so much devastation this hurricane season, and the impact has been particularly destructive and wreaked havoc. It has left millions of U.S. families without shelter, electricity, and their lives in ruin.
We all have a part to play in the recovery efforts and must answer the calls to provide relief and aid in the immense rebuilding efforts that will take place to assist all of them who have been affected. The amount of help and heart I have seen in my home State of New York, including a recent effort of Uptown United this weekend, and from constituents of mine like Lin-Manuel Miranda, and even from children willing to crack open their piggy banks has been overwhelming. If the Federal Government could have matched that compassion, then Puerto Rico would be well on its way to recovery.
Last night, the House Appropriations Committee released a $36.5 billion disaster relief package: $5 billion of that will go directly to Puerto Rico; $14 billion for FEMA’s disaster fund; and $16 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program. I see this as an initial down payment. I hope this is just the beginning. Nearly a month into this crisis, the status of Puerto Rico today is such: The Jones Act. On Sunday, the White House let the 10-day shipping waiver for the Jones Act expire for Puerto Rico, meaning that foreign ships can no longer bring aid to the hurricane ravaged island from U.S. ports. I have been pushing for at least a 1-year waiver and a permanent waiver for oil.
Electricity. To date, only 15 percent of Puerto Ricans have power and electricity, not being able to get in contact with their loved ones and the great impact the lack of electricity has on patients with dialysis. Water. Access to clean drinking water lingers around 20 percent. It is reported that seaborne bacteria are contaminating the water supply. This may lead to bacterial infections such as cholera, dysentery, E. coli, and typhoid. That can be really disastrous. The typical treatments for these illnesses, like tetanus shots and powerful antibiotics, are not readily available on the island where medical supplies are quickly running out.
The damage estimates. It is calculated around $95 billion. This is roughly 150 percent of the Puerto Rican annual gross national product. The down payment really should be $10 billion to $15 billion. The budget. The White House has reported that they have asked Congress to authorize approximately $30 billion in new disaster-related funding. Fatalities. Mr. Speaker, the official death toll has increased to 43 deaths directly or indirectly related to Hurricane Maria. The death toll, unfortunately, will continue to rise, and this is becoming more and more our Caribbean Katrina. I urge my colleagues to pass the Disaster Relief Fund for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean.
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commend 42 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who are currently in Puerto Rico assisting with hurricane relief efforts. Thousands of National Guard members are working in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to help our fellow Americans recover from devastating hurricanes. Hurricane Maria, with its Category 5 winds, was the fifth strongest storm to ever hit the U.S. and the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years. What it left behind was vast devastation and great damage to infrastructure and energy distribution systems.
Mr. Speaker, I am tremendously proud of our Pennsylvania Guardsmen who are on the ground assisting with this humanitarian disaster. They welcomed the call to action and are working to restore Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, install additional telecommunications equipment to connect families and businesses, and deliver more than 300 generators to provide electricity to those who need it. We are working on rebuilding, and the Pennsylvania National Guard is there to aid in the recovery effort. It is the American way to have all hands on deck, and I am grateful for their efforts.
Rep. Al Green (D-TX):
On September 30, 2017, Donald John Trump incited bigotry and race-baiting, engendering racial antipathy, when he disrespected, disparaged, and demeaned Puerto Ricans, who are Americans, by implying Puerto Ricans want others to do for them what they won’t do for themselves, as he made the widely published claim: They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. Further, on October 3, 2017, while in Puerto Rico, as was widely shown on American television, Donald John Trump incited bigotry, engendering racial antipathy, when he disparaged Puerto Ricans by stating: I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine. But we’ve saved a lot of lives. The President did not make similar widely published statements about Texas or Florida
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO):
Nine million children face losing their health insurance because Congress has not yet acted to reauthorize CHIP. Almost 1 million young, aspiring Americans have no idea what their lives will look like 6 months from now because of the President’s decision to end DACA and Congress’s continued inability to make it permanent law. The citizens of Puerto Rico, American citizens, still have not been granted a Federal aid package and are suffering from a lack of food, clean water, healthcare supplies, and electricity, jeopardizing many of their lives today. Yet here we are debating a bill without even allowing an amendment process that we could have passed under suspension vote yesterday so we could move on to CHIP, to Puerto Rico, to DACA today, rather than spend one of our 30 remaining days of business this year avoiding the topics that the American people want us to take on… I think the American people deserve more from us in this body, especially when so many issues like CHIP, like DACA, like Puerto Rico, and many others have gone unanswered by us in this body, the House of Representatives, or by colleagues across the way in the Senate.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX):
I think it is important, as we have these natural disasters, that we really attentively work on the pain that people are suffering; that is on the back side of Puerto Rico, where there is no power, and we don’t know the assessment of loss of life, there is no housing; from Florida to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where people are still waiting for relief, and the attention is not at the peak that it should. Then, in my own community, we are in desperate need of housing. We have senior citizens, after Hurricane Harvey, being dismissed and out of their homes. Finally, Mr. Speaker, we are looking for a new disaster supplemental food program. We have the okay from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We have the State of Texas ready to work with us, but we must make sure that our local officials realize that this is a disaster and an emergency and that they move forward quickly to serve the people who are hungry and who are in need.
Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL):
The coalition is currently focusing on offering immediate lifesaving resources to Puerto Rico and the cancellation of crippling debt, while working locally to open doors for the newly arrived Puerto Ricans to our region so they can use their knowledge and skills to integrate and contribute to the local economy and society from the day they arrive.