On October 31, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Madeleine Bordallo spoke regarding aid to Puerto Rico. Gillibrand, on the senate floor, emphasizes the need for a third supplemental bill to aid the territories affected by Hurricane Maria. Bordallo, on the house floor, introduces the LWCF Parity for Territories and D.C. Act, which is designed to treat the territories equally when they receive funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY):
Mr. President, I rise to speak about the disaster supplemental that the Trump administration is expected to send to Congress as early as tomorrow. While Congress has passed two supplemental aid bills since this year’s hurricanes, I want to make it very clear that what we have already passed is not even close to what we will need to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands fully recover and rebuild. Hurricane Maria destroyed their power grids and has significantly damaged their water infrastructure so as to make clean drinking water dangerously scarce. Three of Puerto Rico’s biggest industries—manufacturing, finance, and tourism, which drive their already struggling economy—remain severely damaged because the hurricane wiped out so many factories, buildings, and hotels. Many Puerto Ricans who had jobs the day before Maria struck no longer have anywhere to go to work. In other words, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, this is not just a natural disaster; it is also an economic disaster that these local governments cannot dig out of on their own. Our fellow citizens desperately need our help. Listen to what one New Yorker told me about how dangerous things are right now, especially for the sick and elderly.
My constituent was trying to help someone in Puerto Rico who was autistic and bedridden and under the care of his 93-year-old father. He needed surgery. He was taken to at least three separate medical facilities, and he spent countless hours in an ambulance with his elderly father. He was transported from one location to the next, but the medical facilities were finding it extremely difficult to communicate with each other. After all of that, his doctor could not find any facility on the island that would accept him into its care. He was finally able to get his treatment, but how many more people are still waiting for help? Another of my constituents is struggling to help her father, who is in a rural area of Puerto Rico. She has only been able to speak to him briefly and exchange limited text messages. Her father suffers from heart issues and glaucoma, and he may need a prescription refill very soon if not right now. There are countless more stories just like these throughout my State and, no doubt, in many of my colleagues’ States as well.
The $36 billion that is for all of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands is just not enough. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it cost the Federal Government $120 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast. That is the amount of funding that we need to be thinking about for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands right now. It will take at least $5 billion just to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid, and that will not even cover improvements to make the system more resilient and more efficient than it was before the storm. Right now, two-thirds of Puerto Rico still does not have power. That means no refrigeration so that people can have food to eat or can keep medicine from spoiling. It means no electricity for oxygen tanks in nursing homes and no lights at night to keep people safe. It will take additional funding to restore roads so that whatever supplies do make it to Puerto Rico can actually be delivered, and people can get to their loved ones in need.
The Small Business Administration will need billions of dollars to help people rebuild their businesses, which are vital to their basic economic recovery. The Army Corps of Engineers will need funding and the authority to rebuild the dams and the ports that were damaged so that commerce can actually go on, and FEMA will likely need $8 billion more just to respond to all of the households that have requested assistance to repair and rebuild their homes through its Individual Assistance Program.
In other words, the recovery effort must be massive. There is no way around it, because we can never turn our backs on fellow citizens, whether they are in New York or Texas or Florida or the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. What we need right now is a Marshall Plan. That is the only way that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are ever going to really fully recover. A new Marshall Plan would help Puerto Rico greatly reduce its crushing debt owned by hedge funds, and a new Marshall plan would also completely modernize infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, by rebuilding their energy grid, hospitals, roads and bridges, reservoirs, schools, dams, and the thousands of buildings and homes that were destroyed by these hurricanes. I urge all of my colleagues to join me in this effort. We must never stop fighting for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to get the funding they need to fully recover and fully rebuild.
Rep. Bordallo (D-GU):
Mr. Speaker, I am indeed proud to introduce the LWCF Parity for Territories and D.C. Act, with the support of all six Members of the House representing our U.S. territories and the District of Columbia as original cosponsors. Mr. Speaker, this bipartisan bill gives parity to Guam, the other territories, and D.C. in annual funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Current law requires the territories and D.C. to split six ways a single State’s annual LWCF allocation. This bill fixes this disparity by providing a full, State-equivalent share of Land and Water Conservation Fund funding for each territory and D.C. every year. This additional funding is needed to improve our public parks, our outdoor sports fields, and our community open spaces on Guam and the other territories, especially as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands rebuild from recent hurricanes. So, Mr. Speaker, I encourage our colleagues to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation and support the LWCF parity for the territories and the District of Columbia.