Puerto Rico, FEMA, disaster relief

An Update On Puerto Rico: Two Months Plus

By Susan Kuebler

More than two months after two hurricanes hit the island of Puerto Rico and the situation there is still beyond bad.  Sadly, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is playing out for the residents of this storm-ravaged American territory.

According to the most recent statistics provided by FEMA, 57.9% of the population now has electricity but it is not clear how much is coming from the electrical grid or from generators.  In other words, roughly 32% are still trying to live without electrical power. That translates into no refrigeration, no lighting, no television, radio, or internet.  Can you imagine an American city of a comparable size to the population Puerto Rico (3.4 million) going one day, or one week, without electrical power?  That would be a bit larger than Chicago (2.7 million) and almost exactly the same size as Los Angeles (3.9 million).  But this situation has existed in Puerto Rico for over two months!

While claiming that 91.32% of the people now have access to potable water, it is still unclear whether this is coming from treatment plants or being supplemented by bottled water.  FEMA also says the entire island is still under a “boil water” advisory, which makes one wonder just exactly how “potable” this water supply really is.

Instead of stepping up efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico, the federal government is actually reducing them.  The critical exemption from the costly restrictions of the Jones Act expired on October 8th, thus making any supplies reaching the island and its people that much more expensive.

FEMA then has the nerve to claim, as of November 28th, that the USNS Comfort was providing much-needed healthcare to the island residents, although that ship departed the island last week in order to return to its base in Norfolk, VA in time for Thanksgiving.

In addition, the $44B funding requested by the Trump administration for additional disaster funding is far below what is needed, not just for Puerto Rico but for Texas and Florida as well The New York Daily News reported two weeks ago.  The governor of Puerto Rico, by far the hardest hit of the areas, estimated that at least $98B, including $18B to rebuild the island’s power grid and $31B for housing, would be needed.  The administration has yet to commit on any amount for the island.

The Republican tax reform legislation could be equally disastrous for Puerto Rico.  In an article published November 30th by CNN Money, both the mayor of San Juan and the governor of Puerto Rico agree that the 20% levy on goods exported from Puerto Rico to the United States would ruin an economy that is in shambles and make an economic recovery virtually impossible. One GOP legislator had the gall to say that they “forgot” about Puerto Rico.

So it should come as no surprise that recent estimates show that approximately 150,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the mainland where conditions are vastly superior.

As the article goes on to explain, in Spanish, most are evacuating because their homes have been destroyed and their lives have become too miserable.  The newspaper estimates that even more will be leaving in the future, making it the most significant migration in the Caribbean since Cubans fled during the Mariel Boatlift, where over 500,000 Cubans moved to the United States.

Most are relocating in Florida, which could significant political implications.  This key swing state, which went for Trump in 2016, now has a number of new voters, because Puerto Ricans are American citizens (as has been pointed out again and again) and while they can vote in federal elections if they become residents of any one of our 50 states.  While they may look favorably on Senator Marco Rubio, they will certainly remember how Trump and other Republicans left them without food, water, or power for weeks on end.

In the meantime, you can still help the people of Puerto Rico by donating to organizations like the Salvation Army or the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Fund.

"All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well". Julian of Norwich.

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