WASHINGTON, DC - On Tuesday, February 18, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business Nydia M. Velázquez, Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Carolyn B. Maloney, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (all D-NY) concluded their Congressional delegation visit to Puerto Rico to survey damage and meet with those affected by recent earthquakes. Over the two-day visit, Members met with individuals and families displaced by the ongoing earthquakes and aftershocks, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced’s Cabinet, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, FEMA officials, the Government of Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), Puerto Rican National Guard personnel, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) authorities, educators and parents, and mental health professionals.
“After experiencing back-to-back natural disasters, our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico need our assistance and we cannot abandon them,” said Congressman Hoyer. “There are critical steps that must be taken to ensure displaced individuals and families can return to their homes, students can resume school, reliable electricity is back in place, mental health care needs are addressed, and the island can get back on its feet. Despite the President’s claims of corruption in Puerto Rico, the briefings from the Government of Puerto Rico and FEMA gave me confidence that recovery funding is being spent with accountability and transparency measures in place. I was also pleased to hear that changes made to the Stafford Act, an effort I led with Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, have made a significant difference in allowing FEMA and Puerto Rico to rebuild to 21st century standards.”
“However, Congress has allocated $44 billion to help the island recover from the hurricanes in 2017, and I am deeply concerned that those funds continue to be delayed. We learned on this visit that the island does not have access to the capital it needs to begin many of the recovery projects, which is an important step in receiving recovery funding through FEMA reimbursements,” continued Congressman Hoyer. “Our delegation will continue working closely with the Puerto Rican government and federal agencies to address that challenge. We will also continue to urge the Senate to take up the emergency supplemental passed by the House this month to address the recent set of earthquakes which have damaged many communities in the south of the island. I am deeply grateful to Congresswomen Velázquez, Maloney, and Ocasio-Cortez for joining me on this visit and in sending this important message to the island: we see you, we hear you, and you will never be forgotten. I also thank Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón for joining us, for her steadfast commitment to the people of Puerto Rico, and for pressing Congress and the Administration to act.”
“It’s my hope this visit drew attention to the need for all of us to come together to assist the Island in its time of need, including enactment of the earthquake assistance previously passed by the House,” said Chairwoman Velázquez. “I thank Leader Hoyer and all my colleagues who were involved in this trip. We cannot rest until Puerto Rico and our fellow U.S. citizens who live there receive the assistance they need to recover fully.”
“I’ve now witnessed the devastation and destruction in Puerto Rico first hand and I can tell you that our fellow Americans need our assistance so that they can rebuild their communities and their lives. The devastation caused by back-to-back natural disasters cannot be overstated,” said Chairwoman Maloney. “I’m so grateful to all those who met with our delegation to share their stories and help us see the situation on the ground. Our fellow Americans are suffering and cannot wait any longer. The Senate needs to step up and immediately send much needed aid to Puerto Rico by passing the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief and Puerto Rico Disaster Tax Relief Act.”
"I want to thank Leader Hoyer for leading this delegation to Puerto Rico. We were able to meet with cabinet officials and assess the administration’s response after the earthquakes," said Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. "It is clear we must do everything in our power to support a transition to clean energy sources and provide the humanitarian assistance Puerto Ricans need. I will continue to work with my colleagues to see this through, and I urge the Senate to take up H.R.5697."
The Congressional delegation arrived in San Juan on Sunday, February 16, and met with Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced’s Cabinet and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón for a briefing on recovery efforts. The Delegation heard about challenges the Government of Puerto Rico and many municipalities face in accessing capital to begin construction so that FEMA can then reimburse the island with recovery funding that Congress has appropriated. The Delegation expressed its commitment to work with the Puerto Rican government on that issue. Additionally, they discussed measures taken by the Puerto Rican government to ensure transparency and accountability in spending recovery funds, and the need to educate the public on those steps being taken to safeguard taxpayer dollars.
Following that meeting, the Delegation received a briefing from FEMA and COR3 to discuss ongoing 2017 hurricane recovery efforts and new issues from recent earthquakes. The Delegation and FEMA and COR3 officials discussed the importance of using recovery funding to strengthen the island and rebuild to 21st century standards that can withstand future natural disasters. They heard how recent changes to the Stafford Act have made a significant difference in allowing FEMA to rebuild to those standards as recovery efforts continue. FEMA officials also confirmed that the Puerto Rican government is strictly complying with transparency and accountability measures and that those measures are among the best in the nation.
On Monday, the Delegation traveled to the southwestern region of Puerto Rico which was hardest hit by earthquakes. They first visited Agripina Seda, a middle school in Guánica, which collapsed due to recent earthquakes. They subsequently visited a field where tents have been erected to provide temporary spaces for classes to resume, which is expected next week. The Members met with the principal and parents of students, who expressed concerns about students returning to classes and finishing the semester. Many parents are concerned about students returning to school, and the Members reiterated their commitment to working with FEMA and COR3 on ensuring students can return safely to school.
Monday afternoon, Members visited the Costa Sur Power Plant, which provides 25% of power to the island and suffered significant damage due to the ongoing earthquakes and aftershocks. PREPA and FEMA officials led a tour of the plant and explained the damage it has sustained and steps being taken to repair the plant. PREPA discussed the steps they are taking to ensure electric reliability with Costa Sur offline. Members expressed that they would monitor the restoration in the coming weeks and months and are committed to the people of Puerto Rico having safe, reliable, and affordable power.
The Congressional delegation concluded the visit by visiting a base camp in Guayanilla and meeting with people who have been displaced from their homes following earthquakes. They heard from individuals who lost their homes or felt their homes were unsafe to live in and were seeking shelter at the base camp. Members discussed steps being taken to move these individuals into short-term housing and to rebuild their homes.
During the visit at the base camp, the Members met with officials from the Puerto Rico Mental Health & Anti-Addiction Administration (ASSMCA) and their team of mental health care providers who are working with displaced individuals and addressing mental health care needs of both first responders and those who have been affected by the earthquakes. Members thanked ASSMCA officials, FEMA officials, COR3 personnel, and National Guard personnel on the ground for their work supporting displaced individuals and families.