A letter sent by 186 human rights organizations to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat of the Committee, asks the Committee to hold hearings on the education and health crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A broad coalition of human rights organizations signed the letter. Organizations include labor unions; religious and educational groups and institutions; Hispanic Federation, LULAC, Puerto Rico Equality Forum , NAACP, and other heritage groups representing Hispanic and other ethnic groups; Oxfam and other charitable groups; and political groups.
The letter began with a clear statement asking the committee to help Puerto Rico:
The undersigned organizations strongly support the bipartisan request for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to hold hearings to assess and address the ongoing education and health crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the destructive hurricanes Irma and Maria.
It has been well over 100 days since the hurricanes made landfall, and American citizens are still struggling to regain basic living essentials. While some progress has been made, the U.S. territories are not only in recovery mode, their citizens are fighting to survive.
The request referenced in the first paragraph is a letter from Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), and Tim Kaine (D-VA). This letter, addressed to Senator Alexander, asks that the HELP committee begin hearings on the affected territories immediately.
The letter from human rights organizations goes on to remind their readers of the damage caused by the hurricanes of 2017, including the continuing lack of safe water and of electric power, saying that “full power restoration for Puerto Rico could take until May, right before the hurricane season of 2018 is set to begin.”
“Progress toward recovery for health and education systems is slow-moving, especially without the basic infrastructure of safe water and electricity, without access to food and safe housing, and with hazards such as long-standing water, diseases and infections,” the authors wrote. “Some groups, such as individuals with disabilities, are especially vulnerable.”
The letter goes on to detail the challenges facing schools and hospitals in the territories. There is also a reminder that people are leaving the territories for the mainland, leaving Puerto Rico in particular even less able to rebuild economically.
“A focus of 2018 needs to be about rebuilding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but we need to ensure the Americans living there are safe and have the resources for basic living essentials,” the letter continues. “Families, individuals and businesses want to begin to be able to rebuild, have a safe home, go to work and school, and have access to safe drinking water and a doctor when they become ill. The Americans of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands desperately need help, and having access to public education and healthcare is essential to the recovery.”
The letter concludes, “We ask for your committee to begin hearings on these issues immediately so that the full range of needs can be met for every U.S. citizen affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.”