Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) urged the White House to appoint an experienced emergency CEO of Response & Recovery to manage federal response in Puerto Rico. The CEO would have a direct line and access to the President, the Governor of Puerto Rico, all Cabinet Secretaries, member of Congress, and local Puerto Rican officials to help coordinate relief efforts and develop a plan for recovery and rebuilding. One month after the hurricane, one million American citizens do not have access to running water, and 80% of the island remains without power. Senator Schumer said that FEMA alone does not have the ability to manage the disaster and is stretched too thin.
“It’s been more than a month since Maria, but 80% of the lights in Puerto Rico are still out, and American citizens are unsure about where their next glass of clean water will come from—this is just unconscionable and demands new action,” stated Schumer. “That is why I am demanding the White House immediately appointing an emergency ‘CEO of Response and Recovery’ for Puerto Rico. This person will have the ability to bring all the federal agencies together, cut red tape on the public and private side, help turn the lights back on, get clean water flowing and help bring about recovery for millions of Americans who have gone too long in some of the worst conditions. It is clear; FEMA alone cannot get the job done.”
Representatives Velazquez (D-NY) and Serrano (D-NY) joined Schumer in urging the White House to appoint a CEO of Response and Recovery for Puerto Rico. Velazquez said that “We can’t change what already happened, but the President can change course and put the full force of the federal government to work assisting our fellow American citizens. Appointing a CEO of Response and Recovery will, at last, put one person with authority in charge to manage the response and ensure we are finally getting the people of Puerto Rico the aid they need.” Serrano added, “The appointment of a CEO or “czar” is a similar idea to help streamline coordination efforts and make sure Puerto Rico’s needs are met. President Trump should take this as an opportunity to show he does care about what the 3.4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico are going through.”
Schumer gave several examples of why Puerto Rico needs CEO of Response and Recovery. First, there are too many different chains of command working independently. Second, we need better coordination of bringing people to Puerto Rico from the mainland because supplies are not getting to the people who need them, including water and food. Thirdly, the CEO would coordinate which federal agencies best can get needed supplies to the people of Puerto Rico. In the wake of multiple disasters, FEMA’s ability to manage disaster recovery in Puerto Rico is inadequate, according to Schumer. Schumer said that the scale of the destruction and complexity of the recovery process in Puerto Rico needs an experienced, high-level official with his or her sole focus on helping to coordinate and facilitate the emergency response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
The emergency CEO of Response & Recovery to assist Puerto Rico would do the following:
- Help coordinate emergency response activities among the various federal agencies, from FEMA, to DoD, to Department of Energy, to the Treasury Department.
- Work with the Puerto Rican government and local officials to ensure that every municipality in Puerto Rico receives all possible resources, personnel, and support from federal government.
- Oversee electrical grid restoration, repair, and rebuilding.
- Help facilitate timely and accurate damage assessments to ensure that Puerto Rico will receive all of the resources it needs in upcoming emergency supplemental appropriations bills.
- Oversee disaster assistance distribution and federal contractual arrangements to ensure that there is no waste, fraud, or abuse.
- Assist the Puerto Rican Governor and municipalities in developing long-term plans for recovery and rebuilding in a more resilient and cost effective way.
In the aftermath of Maria, the official death count rose to 49, with reports of many individuals still missing. Around 73% of Puerto Ricans have access to running water; those without access to safe drinking water are at risk of suffering from contraction of cholera and diarrheal diseases. Moreover, 80% of the island is still without power, 33% of the island’s cell sites are functional and only 53% of cell towers have been fully restored. This lack of power has drastically impacted the ability for hospitals to provide full care to the surplus of patients they are receiving.