Numerous Members of Congress have pledged they would treat the United States territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as equal partners to the states in terms of disaster assistance, and on Oct. 12 the House of Representatives made progress in upholding that pledge when it approved a $36.5 billion relief bill.
The emergency spending measure included $4.9 billion for disaster relief loans for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to replace revenue lost because their economies are stagnating as a result of hurricane damage. The bill also provides $1.2 billion in nutrition assistance for use in Puerto Rico to help feed residents.
The measure was passed with a 353-69 vote. All opposing votes were cast by Republicans, although 70% of Republicans did support the bill.
Numerous Members of the House of Representatives mentioned Puerto Rico in the discussion of disaster relief legislation , including: Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Resident Commissioner Jennifer González Colón (R-PR), Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA). Their statements follow.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL):
Mr. Speaker, a little over a month ago, Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean island of St. Maarten very hard. Within a couple of days, I got a call from loved ones of a couple of constituents. They had family members trapped at a hotel in St. Maarten with dozens of other Americans. The power was out, they were running out of food and water, and incidents of looting were reported. So they called me, their Congressman, and I called the State Department to see what could be done. Within 36 hours of my call, our U.S. citizens—nearly 150 of them—were evacuated from an island, in the ocean, surrounded by water. Do you know where they were taken to for safety?
Puerto Rico. Yes, Puerto Rico, where it has now been 3 weeks since Hurricane Maria and most people do not have power or clean drinking water, and where the deterioration of the healthcare system is leaving people without critical treatments and causing the death toll to go up. Now, in St. Maarten, this is what the State Department said, according to NBC News: ‘‘Evacuation efforts will prioritize U.S. citizens needing urgent medical care.’’ Within a few days, they had evacuated 1,200 Americans. So, right now, if a thousand U.S. citizens are facing danger in Japan, Ethiopia, or Finland, our State Department would arrange to save them. But we have millions of Americans facing danger in Puerto Rico and we can’t get the same help, not from the military, not from FEMA, and not from the State Department, because they don’t assist U.S. citizens who are on U.S. soil, even if that soil is a colony in the ocean surrounded by water, as our President reminds us.
It took 36 hours to get evacuated from St. Maarten. Three weeks in Puerto Rico and still no plan for evacuation. This morning, the President is tweeting that he wants to pull FEMA and the military out of Puerto Rico. How long do we have to stay in Puerto Rico, Mr. President? Until every Puerto Rican’s name is taken off the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall or erased from the records of the Korean war, Afghanistan, and Iraq. As long as it takes. They gave their lives and died. Yesterday, a lot of us received military briefings from FEMA, the military, and Homeland Security. I wanted to know whether FEMA and the military are prepared to take people off the island, as we normally do in emergency situations. We did it in Houston, in Jacksonville, and New Orleans. No, the Governor has not asked for help in evacuating people, they told me.
I asked: How many bridges, even temporary ones, have been constructed in Puerto Rico to replace those destroyed by the hurricane to allow for the transportation of supplies and the evacuation of people? They said: None, Congressman. Zero. We have not erected any bridges. Again, because the Governor of Puerto Rico hasn’t asked us to. When I was there, I flew over the town of Maricao in the mountains, well known for coffee. There are six ways in and out of the town, and five of those bridges are gone. Three weeks after D-day in 1944, the allies liberated the deep water port of Cherbourg, one of the most important objectives in France. It took 20 days and we built bridges and communication lines along the way.
We made better progress in the 3 weeks after D-day than we are making on Puerto Rico. And in Puerto Rico, to the best of my knowledge, there are no Germans shooting at us. Now, when I asked the officials about evacuating people from the island, they had no real answer. But if I remember correctly, FEMA and the military come to us to fund their budget every year. They are accountable to this Congress. We are accountable to our constituents. Constituents are coming to me, as they did in St. Maarten, and are saying: Help us get our families out of danger’s way. Mr. Speaker, when will we be able to give these constituents an answer as to why their family members and loved ones aren’t being allowed to leave the island and evacuated from danger?
This weekend, Members of Congress are going to Puerto Rico. I spoke with a few of them and said: Hey, at night, you should go to this place where it is really bad. One stopped me, cut me off, and said: Congressman, we are not staying overnight. So, on an island where 95 percent of the power is out, our Members of Congress are only going to see things during the day, not during the pitch-black darkness, which is what Puerto Ricans are living with every single night for the last 3 weeks. Regardless of what my colleagues see during the day or what the President tweets in the morning, my friends stand in line for hours for food, if they can find it; my constituents are worried about their family members; and 5 million Puerto Ricans in the diaspora have run out of patience. We want our people free to live in the United States of America wherever they can. Mr. Speaker, my constituents want the government to help get their families out of danger’s way.
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD):
Mr. Speaker, it is hard to tell where and in what direction Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are heading today. There is not enough food, millions are struggling to live without drinking water and electricity, and only 8 percent of the roads are open to traffic. Containers with supplies, medical supplies, and food and other commodities are sitting in containers on the docks in the Port of San Juan and are not moving towards the people and the communities that need them the most. Struggles in the Virgin Islands are less heard about but no less real.
The question is whether we, as a nation, are doing all we can for the citizens of this Nation. Let’s compare. After an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, where the infrastructure was severely damaged, the U.S. military mobilized as if we were going to war. The very next morning, after the earthquake hit, an Army unit was airborne. Within 2 weeks, 33 ships and 22,000 soldiers had arrived, and more than 300 helicopters were delivering millions of pounds of food and water, not just to the port, but the people of Haiti. By contrast, today, there are fewer than 14,000 military personnel assisting in relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and there are only 88 helicopters and only 4 naval ships, one of them the USNS Comfort that are aiding 3.5 million Americans—3.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico, 100,000 Americans in the Virgin Islands.
In Haiti, Mr. Speaker, we airlifted 15,000 U.S. citizens in 2010 after the earthquake, but in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, we are unwilling to evacuate a single American, even those who have relatives and friends in the many communities across the 50 States of this great country. As Americans are starving and Americans are desperate, our response needs to be more vigorous. Now, let’s be sure, the military is doing what we are asking them to do. This is not a criticism of the military not doing what we are asking them to do, but the White House is not asking the military to do enough. Mr. Speaker, the President must lead on this issue. We have got dedicated members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard who are willing, ready, and able to be in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to deliver the relief to our neighbors and our citizens.
We need to ask the Department of Defense to send more engineers, more transportation companies, and expeditionary sustainment battalions. Yesterday, I asked a senior military leader: How many pontoon bridges have been erected in Puerto Rico to cross those washed out roads? Zero. How many miles of power transmission lines have been reestablished to get electricity out to more communities? The answer is zero. We have military engineers on the ground, but they have not been asked to do that. We need to direct our military to provide the direct services on the local or, in military parlance, on the tactical level. I am not talking about long-term rebuilding of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by the United States military. I am talking about directing the Department of Defense to establish the minimum infrastructure necessary to do the job that we should be asking them to do, which is to provide relief to 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Strategic movements are good, military assessments and evaluations help, but what is needed is no less than what was done 7 years ago in Haiti. Mr. Speaker, the President must lead on this issue, and the President must ask our military to do more.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH):
Mr. Speaker, I have an alert for the Trump administration. The Trump-led FEMA, that is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is falling far short on disaster relief in Puerto Rico. In fact, I think one could say they are actually perilously short on helping the people, our fellow citizens, in Puerto Rico. It has now been 22 days, that is 528 hours, since Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico still—still—have no fresh water, no power, little food, with many villages lacking any means for communication. Many have no dry cots or even dry sleeping bags to replace the wet mattresses and moldy surroundings that characterize the Puerto Rico of today.
Let me say that Puerto Rico is not a large island. It is a little over 100 miles wide, not much larger than my congressional district in Ohio which extends from Cleveland to Toledo. The difference with Puerto Rico is the topography is much more hilly. I ask myself the question: Why hasn’t FEMA had airdrops of vital sustenance from the very start? Where is that help to these far-flung villages that have been cut off because, when the rains came, they washed out bridges and roads that make all these tiny towns inaccessible? Inaccessible. Fresh water packets can be airdropped. Our military does that all over the world. Why can’t those fresh water packets be dropped in Puerto Rico? We can drop packets with peanut butter and bread. We do that all over the world. Why can’t we do that in Puerto Rico? Why can’t we airdrop food?
Citizens in Ohio with families and friends in Puerto Rico about whom they are desperately worried have been told that many smaller towns where they have relationships lack relief and any assistance now 528 hours, 22 days, into this deep human tragedy. I want to place in the RECORD, and I hope somebody at FEMA is listening, names of some of the villages that are completely cut off because roads and bridges were destroyed and no relief has come. No relief has come. Ponce, in the south, is one. Utuado, Jayuya, Arecibo, Yauco, Corozal, Comerio, Loiza, Toa Baja, Cabo Rojo, and Llanadas. Those are names we have been given. Aid to these pockets of desperation is almost 3 weeks overdue. People need relief now.
FEMA also needs a better plan. In fact, they need a plan. I don’t think they have any plan to immediately evacuate people to the mainland for respite. Places like Cleveland, Lorain, and Toledo, Ohio, we could accept people who now are living in conditions you would wish on no American. We cannot risk more illness and death. Children should not be missing school after the horror they have experienced. We shouldn’t have the level of hardship that has been subjected to people who are still enduring the devastation of Maria. What is happening there is inhumane. Most of the television stations are down in San Juan, and that is where the Governor of Puerto Rico is most of the time when our codels go down there, but the desperation is in the countryside. It is outside of San Juan, which is inaccessible.
President Trump, the people of America and, let me tell you, those in Ohio need you to help their families and countrymen now. FEMA can do so much better for our fellow Americans. FEMA’s initials stand for Federal Emergency Management. So where is the emergency? Where is the management? And where is the Federal reputation for excellence and leaving no man or woman behind? FEMA, shape up. America demands more, and Americans deserve more.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the lives of the victims of the California wildfires. We have seen some devastating fires throughout California, specifically huge fires in northern California, that have already burned over 142,000 acres. It is one of the deadliest weeks in California wildfire history, already seeing 23 lives perish in those fires.
Today, we will see disaster relief funding here on the floor. It is important that, while we have already passed one funding bill, we pass another to address all natural emergencies across the entire country. We must also have funding available for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in devastated areas like Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida. We have had big challenges in this country, and it is time to make sure that we pass a second relief funding bill that will address many of those concerns in the disasters that we have seen across the country.
Shortly hereafter, we are going to see another funding bill come forward that will address some reforms. While some of our States have building codes and are addressing the impacts so that we don’t see this devastation in the future, we need to make sure that these reforms are passed in the coming bill as well. We have three major bills. We will pass one today. Another one is soon to follow. We have to address the country’s national emergencies.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present H. Res. 569, making additional supplemental appropriations for disaster relief requirements for the current fiscal year to help respond to recent devastating natural disasters. Over the past 2 months, millions of Americans have had their lives forever altered by destructive hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and by raging and deadly wildfires in the West. We all support those who are victimized, particularly those who lost their lives or lost loved ones, and we will continue to be with them every step of the way with the Federal support they need as they recover and rebuild. Our thanks go to the first responders, volunteers, and States who saved countless lives, protected communities, and demonstrated the best of humanity; that includes FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, and many other Federal agencies for getting the first installment of relief to those in need.
However, with such massive, unprecedented damage, more help is clearly needed to continue to respond to these recovery efforts, to rebuild communities with dollars, with resources, with manpower, and with our support. This emergency funding legislation, the second installment, addresses urgent short-term immediate priorities: replenishing FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, supporting ongoing Federal wildfire suppression efforts, providing debt relief for the Federal Flood Insurance Program, and other assistance that will help our fellow Americans in their time of greatest need. To summarize the $36.5 billion in emergency funding provided in this bill, in total, $18.7 billion is provided for the Disaster Relief Fund. This includes $13.77 billion for the most immediate response needs: lifesaving missions, emergency protection, the repair and restoration of public infrastructure like communications, power, transportation, and, yes, shelter, and financial assistance to individuals and families affected as they rebuild their lives.
This package also includes $4.9 billion for community disaster loans, which will ensure local governments are able to provide basic municipal services such as police and fire protection and public education throughout this trying time. In addition to the Disaster Relief Fund, this bill provides a one-time payment of $1.27 billion to allow Puerto Rico and our fellow citizens to receive the same access to emergency disaster and nutrition program benefits that other States receive. The bill also ensures that the National Flood Insurance Program is able to meet its existing claim obligations as Americans cope with the tremendous flood damage to their homes and communities. For wildlife suppression, the bill contains $576.5 million. As we have seen, the situation out West has grown even more desperate and deadly. We must ensure that those heroic firefighters can continue to save lives and protect property.
As we know, the needs of each disaster area are ever changing. Consequently, our Appropriations Committee and all of our Members continue to monitor the progress of recovery efforts as well as anticipate emerging needs. This will be a long process, Mr. Speaker, and the second package or installment of the Federal support will certainly not be all that is needed over the long term. Mr. Speaker, I urge support of this bill. It is important for the Nation, for the communities affected, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY):
Mr. Speaker, since Hurricane Harvey wrought historic flooding in Texas, 12 major disasters have been declared. From a hurricane that damaged large swaths of Florida, storms that annihilated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and wildfires burning in the West, Americans deserve certainty the Federal Government will stand by them in their time of need. This is particularly important after the President threatened to abandon Puerto Rico in his latest Twitter this morning. Congress cannot turn its back on recovery, no matter how reckless the President’s outburst may be, as Americans are suffering and simply trying to survive. This package provides critical disaster relief, flood insurance aid, and help for communities devastated by wildfires. Puerto Rico would be aided by provisions to address its liquidity crisis by facilitating recovery, not paying creditors, and providing additional nutrition assistance. Additionally, the bill would continue aid to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from the Department of Defense.
However, more must be done to provide medium- and long-term investments, including rebuilding ports, coastlines, airports, roads, bridges, repairing the electrical grid and other infrastructure, and ensuring the health needs of American citizens are met. I urge your support for this bill and your continued focus on ensuring the full recovery of American communities devastated by natural disasters. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Rep. José Serrano (D-NY):
Mr. Speaker, I thank the ranking member for yielding. This bill is a first step in helping Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. It will provide FEMA and the governments of the islands with the funds needed to address immediate relief needs and begin the recovery process. I do want to thank the chairman and ranking member for their commitment to this issue and for taking my phone calls at all different times, on weekends. You have been very helpful and very supportive.
Both will be visiting the island tomorrow and will be able to see firsthand the dramatic and comprehensive needs that Puerto Rico is facing. Right now, 85 percent of the island still lacks electricity more than 3 weeks after the hurricane hit. One third of the island doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. Most of the island still lacks cellular service, hampering the vital information to deliver assistance in the areas that are needed. Federal employees on the island now are doing important and vital work, but we need more boots on the ground.
This funding provides them with the resources needed to do that in the short term. But to succeed, there needs to be a commitment from the highest levels of government to ensure the recovery of all areas that are part of our Nation, including its territories. Unfortunately, given the President’s latest Twitter rant this morning, it seems unlikely that we have that focus and commitment. So it is up to us in Congress to make sure that the Federal Government doesn’t forget about Puerto Rico, and that is what I intend to do in the days and months ahead. But to both of you and to our membership here, thank you for not forgetting Puerto Rico. This is an ongoing battle and an ongoing issue.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA):
Mr. Speaker, the past few months have witnessed one of the most devastating natural disasters ever endured by our country. They include hurricanes, voracious wildfires in my home State of California that have killed at least 23 people, required mass evacuations, and burned more than 170,000 acres and thousands of homes and businesses. By acting quickly on this emergency supplemental, we are sending a strong message that we are here for disaster victims, including our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But this is just a down payment. We still don’t have the final damage estimates for many of the affected areas.
In the coming weeks and months, we will need to once again support FEMA’s continued recovery efforts, including in Puerto Rico, despite the President’s threats to abandon the people there. There will be more to do to address unmet needs through the Community Development Block Grant program and other disaster relief programs.
Resident Commissioner Jennifer González Colón (R-PR):
Mr. Speaker, first, I thank the Speaker of the House and the whole leadership, Chairman FRELINGHUYSEN, and all of the members from the Appropriations Committee for allowing the Federal Government to help Puerto Rico in this dire situation. On behalf of the 3.4 million American citizens that live in Puerto Rico and the nearly 5.5 million Puerto Ricans that live on the mainland, I rise today in strong support of this disaster supplemental appropriations bill. They have been focused on Puerto Rico since before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, and then during Hurricane Maria. I also thank all of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who have reached out during these past 3 weeks to express their encouragement and offer their assistance during this process. For that, my constituents and I will always be grateful to all of the Members of this House. As you may know by now, Puerto Rico was hit by two major hurricanes. First, Hurricane Irma, which caused significant damage on the eastern part of the island. That was on September 6. Then, on September 20, a few days later, we got hit by Hurricane Maria, which caused unprecedented destruction throughout the whole island and which many people consider that hurricane to be the most catastrophic natural disaster ever on U.S. soil.
Today, 22 days after the storm hit, nearly 85 percent of our population remains without power, 44 percent without running water, and almost 58 percent without access to telecommunications. To this date, we still have towns like Las Marias, Maricao, Utuado, and many others in the central part of the island, that remain un-communicated and can only be accessed by air since most of the roads and bridges were washed away. We are talking about more than 18 major roads and bridges that were just washed away. The death toll has reached 48 fatalities, and, unfortunately, certainly that number is going to increase in the coming days and weeks. This unprecedented humanitarian crisis in our own Nation has begun what is likely to evolve into a mass exodus of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland, further jeopardizing the island’s long-term recovery.
Mr. Speaker, I stand here today telling you that the American citizens that live in Puerto Rico still are suffering in different ways. This is not the time to focus on how and when resources will be withdrawn from Puerto Rico, or how slowly we are going to rebuild the island. Today, 85 percent of our island is without electricity, yet 3.4 million American citizens living there just got less than 15,000 people working to recover the power grid. I just want to remind you that Florida got more than 61,000 people helping to recover their power grid in just 4 days. That is not acceptable in our case, and we are still American citizens. I know a lot of problems persist. It is too difficult to address the issue when you are not part of the mainland, you are not part of the power grid. It is different when you get access and resources to Texas, Louisiana, or Florida, because you can drive or you can have helicopters. In our case, everything is by ship or air. That means it is more difficult for the Federal Government to assist directly. That is the reason we got more than 15,000 personnel from the Coast Guard, National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, Navy, and the assistance of all national guards—Virginia, Florida, and New York, just to name a few.
The Puerto Rican communities in the States and on the island are showing the way, along with private companies, NGOs, and countless volunteers throughout the whole Nation. But there is still a lot that needs to be done as we begin the reconstruction. That is the reason this supplemental is so important for us. Allowing the people of Puerto Rico to access problems that we never have before, like SNAP, which will provide $1.3 billion to receive the same emergency disaster and nutrition assistance benefits as the States, this is the first time this Congress has allowed this to happen to Puerto Rico. I thank the Members and leadership of the House for allowing this money. This is the bill that provides for $18.7 billion to FEMA to have the disaster relief fund to help in lifesaving missions across the island for emergency protection and removal of debris—we continue to have a lot of debris on the island—and the repair and restoration of our infrastructure. That is going to be a matter of discussion on another day because we can’t rebuild or redo the infrastructure we did before from the fifties or the sixties. We need to redo a lot of things on our power grid.
It will provide also—and this is a very important area—$7.4 billion to have liquidity to the local government of Puerto Rico just to match Federal funds that are needed to these recovery actions. This is the second step this House has taken in terms of helping the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, people that are American citizens. This is the second step. The first one was the first supplemental that was approved.
So this is the second step. This is not going to be the last one. We are going to need a lot more help in the coming months, and I know we can count on this House and on this Congress to make that happen. The people of Puerto Rico are grateful, they are resilient, and they are going to continue to show us the way to recover. It is going to take a lot of time, a lot of resources, a lot of money, and a lot of commitment as U.S. citizens, like we are.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL):
Mr. Speaker, let me just start by saying to the people of Puerto Rico: Despite President Trump’s indifference and soft bigotry, we will be there for the people of Puerto Rico until the last American’s life returns to normal. While I rise to support this critical emergency appropriations bill, this supplemental leaves much to be desired. This legislation provides vital recovery funds to my home State of Florida, as well as Texas; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Puerto Rico; and California, where wildfires remain ablaze. However, it neglects to include SBA loans for small businesses and homeowners, as well as making smart investments in our ports, coastlines, water systems, and electrical grids.
This bill also neglects to address the devastating agricultural losses, especially to Florida’s $10 billion citrus industry. It is also important to note that, in Florida, this vital funding will not be able to address the public health hazard of debris strewn across our lawns and streets as Governor Scott shamefully refuses to allow our cities to fully access FEMA funds. While the majority has said these and other issues can be part of future omnibus negotiations, this delay will leave constituents waiting months longer to receive the services they so desperately need. They should not have to wait.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank both the gentleman from New Jersey, the chairman, and the ranking member from New York for their work. Mr. Speaker, the people of Puerto Rico, 3.5 million of our fellow citizens, are suffering. The mayor of my home town, Yabucoa, where Maria made landfall, is predicting that as many as 5,000 residents are potentially facing starvation. More than 85 percent of the island is without electricity. One-third of Puerto Ricans lack access to drinkable water, which will surge the number of bacterial infections and mosquito-borne illnesses. As Puerto Rico faces this humanitarian crisis, the President of the United States is tweeting out threats to withdraw assistance. That is an outrage. It is an insult. It is an abdication of the President’s solemn duty to protect the safety and security of the American people. American citizens everywhere deserve better.
Where the President is failing to lead, Congress must act, and act now. The legislation we are debating today is far from sufficient. It is not enough, but it is a start. It is a down payment in helping the response process. It will keep FEMA operating, removing debris and distributing food and water. It also helps Puerto Rico’s Government address a looming cash shortfall. With the government running out of money by November 1, vital services could be suspended when residents can least afford it. This bill would provide a short-term cash infusion for the government to keep going. The way this assistance is structured under the law, these funds will likely not be paid back, which is reasonable, given the challenges Puerto Rico faces. Some of those challenges have been created by the lack of action of the Congress when it comes to Medicaid.
Mr. Speaker, let’s be clear. There is going to need to be much more assistance in the future. Puerto Rico will need help rebuilding its energy grid, repairing telecommunications networks, and putting its ports, bridges, and roads back together, and we cannot forget shoring up the island’s Medicaid system, something that was critical before Maria, but is even more important now. This problem is of Congress’ making, and we must fix it. Make no mistake. Those priorities will require more money, and we will need to come back and address them in a few weeks.
The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens. And, you know, what? Even when so many of my brothers and sisters are suffering in Puerto Rico, are facing a humanitarian crisis, at last, 50 percent of the people in this country who didn’t know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens are learning that fact. Yes, American citizens, when, in 1898, Puerto Rico was invaded and taken over by the U.S. Government. So now it is our responsibility to make Puerto Rico whole.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL):
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by first recognizing one of our own, who has been a superb representative for Puerto Rico in these very difficult times. You rarely see somebody with the talent, the energy of the representative of Puerto Rico here in Congress. Miss GONZA´ LEZ-COLO´ N has been, frankly, a hero, and I just wanted to mention that, because she has really made all of us understand the situation, and she has done so with great dignity and great passion and great brilliance. I just had to say that. Mr. Speaker, let me first thank the chairman for being incredibly accessible and engaged. Florida has gotten hit rather hard, as you know. This bill totals $36.5 billion. $18.67 billion of that goes directly to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, and it also ensures that our National Flood Insurance Program has the resources that it needs to pay the claims, also an important grant food and aid loan eligibility to Puerto Rico, which is crucial.
So far, Mr. Speaker, Florida has received $740 million for assistance for individuals through FEMA, and is working through over 608,000 applicants. Think about that. As we continue to recover, again, I look forward to continue working with the chairman, who has been phenomenal. Specifically, we are going to have to deal with the agricultural impact of this storm, and again, particularly on the citrus industry, that has been devastated by this storm. This is an important bill. It is an important bill. I want to thank the chairman for bringing it up so quickly. We must pass it. I look forward to working with Chairman FRELINGHUYSEN and with all our colleagues through this process, because we are going to need more assistance as the days and the months go. So this is an important bill. I urge your support.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD):
Mr. Speaker, millions of our fellow Americans in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands are looking to Congress and the administration to work together to provide aid and assistance in recovery and rebuilding. I disagree with the President of the United States that we are going to leave Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands or any other American precipitously before we have done the job we need to do. The recent hurricanes have left 3.6 million Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands still without power, fuel, clean water, food, electricity, and access to medical facilities. That is unacceptable, I say to the administration.
We are witnessing a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions, and it will get worse if we do not come together as a nation and bring to bear the full force of the Federal Government to assist. Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman for bringing this bill to the floor to effect that end. That is why I have called on President Trump to muster every Federal resource, to muster and ensure that aid and supplies can reach those who need them, and to work on restoring power, water, and communications. Because many are still out of reach, we do not yet know the full extent of the damage and loss of life.
Today’s Washington Post has a front page story chronicling the tragedy that continues as of now to unfold in Puerto Rico, where nightfall brings complete darkness, and diseases are spreading by way of contaminated water. The island has been plunged into the 19th century. The Virgin Islands shares that status. This supplemental must be followed in the weeks and months ahead by additional measures to provide disaster relief funding and financial assistance to bring the infrastructure of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands up to 21st century standards in order to prevent a repeat of what has occurred. According to a letter sent to the congressional leadership on October 7, by the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello´, the damage of that island is estimated to cost as much as $95 billion, which is 150 percent of Puerto Rico’s gross national product.
This funding package is an important step, though it fails to provide urgently needed Medicaid funding to help the 1.6 million in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare. Congress must do its part and ensure that the resources are available, but it is up to the administration to make certain that the resources we provide get to those who need them. So I ask my colleagues to join me in passing this bill, and I call on the President again to take every necessary measure to address this humanitarian crisis affecting our fellow Americans. Mr. President, do not send a message to any American that we will turn our backs on them. That is not fair, it is not right, and you ought to correct the statement you made this morning.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX):
Mr. Speaker, Puerto Rico has no power. The U.S. Virgin Islands has no power. St. Johns is completely collapsed in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The people are dying from contaminated water. Mr. President, how can you abandon the American people? This bill is going to provide FEMA assistance to keep giving so they can have it. It is going to give $16 billion to the senior citizens in my district, who have paid their flood insurance, who are desperate to get their houses repaired, to get the mold out after being impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Yes, I woke up this morning to the outrage of the fires and people dying in California. That is what is in this bill. I can’t imagine that a President would make this comment of walking away, but I am here to fight for those who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. We are still suffering. Senior citizens are out of their homes. We have been evicting people in public housing. We need community development block grants. The Army Corps of Engineers is greatly needed. The funding that we ask for is not in here, block grants is not in here, and as well the restoration that we need. We will fight. I will not turn my back on Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands and vote ‘‘no’’. I will vote ‘‘yes” And help Americans, but Hurricane Harvey has to be in the next bill.
Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI):
Mr. Speaker, I thank Chairman FRELINGHUYSEN and Ranking Member LOWEY for bringing more disaster relief legislation to the floor today. I am pleased to see much-needed support for ongoing disaster response efforts in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other hurricane-affected areas, including direct assistance to families, debris removal operations, and emergency protective measures carried out by FEMA, and additional activities of numerous other Federal agencies that are on the ground working around the clock to help us to recover and rebuild. I cannot thank enough all of our Federal and local personnel helping us through this. I have been on the ground after Irma, after Maria, and just recently, and I tell you, their support is invaluable. I am particularly pleased to see the subdivision of $5 billion for Disaster Direct Loan Program to assist local governments and with measures taking into account the unique aid and flexibility needed for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
Multiple loans will be available based on different types of losses and unanticipated spending needs, and waivers of amount limits are also helpful. Additional loans to pay for local matching requirements is an important support. However, I am deeply concerned about the important relief that was left out of this bill and the administration’s disaster relief request last week. This does not incorporate the medium and long-term assistance that played a clear critical role in the recovery following previous disasters like Katrina and Sandy, and the Virgin Islands cannot afford to wait for this to be a higher priority of the Federal Government. The package does not include community development and social service block grant funding, Economic Development Administration funds, supplemental housing assistance, nor additional funds for repair of our water infrastructure, ports, community facilities, airports, roads, parks, wetlands, and fisheries.
Damage sustained in all of these areas has been catastrophic, and waiting around until another end of the year for auxiliary funding for these pressing needs is not acceptable. Perhaps most concerning is the lack of Medicaid program assistance to the territory. Even before two consecutive Category 5 hurricanes that decimated our hospitals and medical infrastructure, the Virgin Islands was forced to operate a Medicaid program that is capped in an amount that has no relationship to local needs, and our rate of Federal matching funds, our FMAP, is limited to an arbitrarily low 55 percent Federal to 45 percent local contribution.
Thousands of our citizens go without adequate care due to this treatment every year, in addition to the impacts on our providers and hospitals due to uncompensated care, but after these back-to-back storms, there is no revenue being generated in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico at this time. Our tourism-related economy is gone. We will miss this entire year, at the very least. With our public health and social welfare needs, we are in dire need of supplemental Medicaid support, including a temporary 100 percent Federal contribution, just like what was provided to Americans living in Louisiana and Texas following Katrina. I was pleased to see Ranking Member PALLONE’s proposal to provide this 100 percent temporary Federal share with a substantial plus-up to our allotment so that the American citizens—yes, American citizens—in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico can have the benefit of Medicaid in this time of greatest need. This has not been a part of this package. Virgin Islanders cannot wait until Christmas for a Medicaid program. We need it now.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA):
Mr. Speaker, in the wake of the destruction that this historic hurricane season has wrought on Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Gulf Coast, I am very pleased that, in addition to the emergency relief funds for wildfires that are burning on both ends of California, the bill also includes liquidity and emergency nutritional assistance for Puerto Rico, where they are facing particularly difficult challenges in their recovery efforts. This bill also provides for partial debt forgiveness of $16 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program. I am encouraged to see that the administration finally understands what we have been saying for a long time: we need to forgive the debt of the NFIP, which FEMA has repeatedly stated it will never be able to repay. Following the losses that will be incurred as a result of the recent hurricanes, the NFIP needs debt forgiveness more than ever.
But let’s be clear. The partial debt forgiveness will leave the NFIP with a crushing level of debt. Although this is a step in the right direction, we should forgive all of the debt that the NFIP has accrued from catastrophic storms like Katrina and Sandy instead of burdening the NFIP policyholders with hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments every year. Before this hurricane season, NFIP policyholders were already paying more in interest than the entire NFIP spends on salaries and expenses or funding mitigation or paying for flood maps.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):
Mr. Speaker, I also rise in strong support of this emergency supplemental. Our neighbors in the North Bay, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, they need our help, and they need it now. Communities are devastated, and many are still without power and water. This is a life-anddeath situation for so many. Make no mistake, the recovery process is just beginning, and we cannot forget our Caribbean neighbors who are also suffering. Mr. Speaker, the supplemental is a good first step. It is a good first step in a very long process, but we must provide more long-term assistance to help communities rebuild and to help them recover very quickly, and we must leave no one behind.
Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA):
Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico this past Saturday with a bipartisan group of legislators. We traveled there with Resident Commissioner González Colón, who has been an absolutely outstanding advocate for Puerto Rico during this difficult time.
I have a few takeaways from that: One, it was a sobering experience to see how widespread the devastation is on the island. Every single aspect of the island of Puerto Rico was affected. Secondly, the full commitment of the Department of Defense, of FEMA, of every Federal Government agency and the effort to recover that is being conducted in conjunction with the Governor and folks on the ground in Puerto Rico is great to see. It is an effective initial recovery effort that has saved and has sustained lives. Millions of meals and millions of bottles of water have been distributed. A third takeaway is this will require a sustained active and effective effort.
I want to thank the chairman for introducing this bill today, which is absolutely necessary to bring back the economy on the island of Puerto Rico. The top priority now is to rebuild the grid, which is absolutely essential to getting the economy in Puerto Rico moving. That is why we need this aid package. It is an important step along the long road to recovery for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, as well as for all of those impacted by hurricanes in the South and those out West battling wildfires. One thing I saw as well: the American people come to the assistance of other citizens in need, and that is true whether it is in Houston, Florida, or in Puerto Rico. Again, I would like to thank the chair for introducing this legislation, and I urge my colleagues to support it.