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Schumer Urges Immediate Action for Puerto Rico

Senator Chuck Schumer spoke on the Senate floor yesterday to urge immediate action to help Puerto Rico.  His remarks follow:

After suffering the winds and rains of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the island of Puerto Rico has been completely devastated. I can’t recall in my lifetime a hurricane wreaking such devastation on any part of the United States. Its people, 3.5 million American citizens, face one of the gravest humanitarian crises in recent memory.

Listen to these facts:

  • Nearly the entire island is still without power and reserves of gas and diesel are dangerously low, maybe 20 days left. I read in the paper this morning, 80% of the major power lines, the big trunk lines that deliver power, are down. You don’t have power, just think of what that does.
  • The Governor of Puerto Rico last night said that roughly 40% of people on the island lack access to potable water. Some estimates say as many as 65% don’t have access to potable water. The food supply is dwindling and people are without food.
  • Fewer than 250 of the island’s 1,600 cellphone towers are operational. I remember just the day of 9/11 when cell phone service went out in New York and I couldn’t reach my daughters. Well, this has been going on for days and days and days.
  • The damage to one of the largest dams on the island has created the need for another massive evacuation, but with 95% of cell phones out of service, the evacuations must be carried out by officials going door-to-door to the nearly 70,000 residents who are potentially in harm’s way.
  • Worse still, the damage to Puerto Rico’s roads, bridges, and ports has isolated many communities and delayed the arrival of aid.

It is not hyperbolic to say that these two storms together have set Puerto Rico back decades. The damage is apocalyptic – it’s biblical. The situation on the U.S. Virgin Islands is similar. Words and statistics can hardly begin to describe the devastation these Americans are just beginning to grabble with. And it hit home. One of my staffers couldn’t find an uncle. They found him in the Virgin Islands dead last night. So it hits home to our staff and to all Americans. Looking at the pictures and the news reports, the islands now resemble a war zone.

What we need to do now is provide aid to the island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as quickly as humanly possible. Water. Food. Power. Shelter. They need help and they need it now.

Here’s what should happen:

President Trump must issue a full disaster declaration for all of Puerto Rico. Right now, 24 of the 78 municipalities on the island are not eligible for FEMA grants to rebuild their homes.

President Trump should also waive the local cost share requirement for emergency funds so Puerto Rico can rebuild without having to worry about falling even deeper into debt.

While our nation’s armed forces are already assisting in Puerto Rico, more needs to be done. As the most experienced part of our government in the movement of food, water, mobile power, and medical supplies, the Dept. of Defense should immediately determine what additional resources and capabilities can be deployed to aid Puerto Rico. If Secretary Mattis hasn’t already met with the Director of FEMA, I hope he will do it today.

And most importantly, the Administration should prepare an immediate and interim emergency aid request and the Majority Leader should put that package on the floor of the Senate before we leave this week. Anything less would be an abject failure of our duty to come to the aid of our fellow US Citizens.

The Administration submitted a request for aid for Hurricane Harvey less than a week after the storm made landfall. We are rapidly closing in on that same marker for Maria hitting Puerto Rico.

We need to move fast. We need to move now. Lives are at stake.

This morning I saw that President Trump tweeted that Puerto Rico was in “deep trouble” but that relief efforts were “doing well.”

With all due respect, President Trump, the relief efforts are not doing well, they’re not close to good enough.

All any American needs to do is open a newspaper or turn on a TV to know that Puerto Rico is not doing well.

In his tweets, President Trump also brought up the issue of Puerto Rico’s debt, which is a totally different issue and pales in comparison to the immediate humanitarian crisis that the Island faces.

Again, now is not the time, Mr. President. Puerto Rico needs help from aid workers, not debt collectors from Wall Street. Yes, Puerto Rico needs debt relief, but first they need humanitarian relief. Water. Food. Medicine. Fuel.

But this fits a pattern of how the President responds to natural disasters. He insists that relief and recovery efforts are “doing well” or “doing great” sometimes with no relation to the facts on the ground as if this is a public relations campaign and not a rescue, recovery and rebuilding operation.

The time for tweets and talk is over, the American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands need action and results. The best thing the President can do is get all the people in his Administration, all the relevant people together, and come up with an aid package, deliver it to us in the next day or two so we can pass it before we leave here this week.

Instead of trying to take health care away from millions of Americans, an effort that now appears doomed, the Trump Administration and the Republican Majority should put an emergency aid package on the floor before the week is out.

As Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan said earlier today: “We need to get our *act* together because people are dying.”

The situation is desperate. The need is urgent. It’s time to act now.


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