Schumer And Velázquez Demand FEMA Dramatically Step Up Response To Recent Earthquakes Given Their Horrible Recovery Efforts After Hurricanes Maria And Irma For Fellow Americans In Puerto Rico

January 9, 2020

Senator Schumer And Congresswoman Velázquez Say That The Emergency Declaration Issued On January 7 Is Welcome, But Merely A Small, First Step, As The Destruction In Impacted Parts Of Puerto Rico Demands A Comprehensive Federal Response

Senator Schumer And Congresswoman Velázquez State That Uneven And Inadequate Disaster Response By FEMA, And Other Federal Agencies, In The Wake Of Hurricanes Irma And Maria Make It Even More Crucial That Puerto Rico Receives A Swift, Adequately Resourced, And Effectively Coordinated Response To This Disaster

Senator Schumer And Congresswoman Velázquez Demand That FEMA Use All Of The Authority Granted Under The Emergency Declaration To Ensure The Safety Of Lives And Property Across The Island; Urge Admin To Release Unjustly Withheld Disaster Aid, And Grant Full Disaster Relief Status 

Washington, D.C.— In a letter to Pete Gaynor, the Acting Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez called for FEMA to act swiftly in assisting our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico in recovering from the recent earthquakes and demanded that FEMA use all of the authority granted under the Emergency Declaration to ensure the safety of lives and property across the island, including the speedy completion of preliminary disaster assessments and the prompt approval of other desperately needed levels of disaster aid.

“Our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico have suffered from earthquakes that have injured and killed residents, destroyed homes and hospitals, and left hundreds of thousands of people without water and electricity,” said Schumer. “I will fight to do everything possible to ensure that this administration does not neglect Puerto Rico as it did in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. It’s critical that the Trump administration act immediately to provide communities in Puerto Rico the assistance they need and deserve.”

“While FEMA’s disaster declaration is a positive step, it is just the beginning of a long process. Puerto Ricans remember all too painfully how this Administration fumbled and failed in response to Hurricane Maria,” said Velázquez. “During that disaster, incompetence and indifference cost thousands of Americans their lives. The federal government must do better this time and we are letting FEMA know in advance we intend to hold them accountable.” 

The full text of Leader Schumer’s and Congresswoman Velázquez's letter to Acting Administration Gaynor can be found here and below:

The Honorable Pete T. Gaynor

Acting Administrator

Federal Emergency Management Agency

500 C Street S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20472

Dear Acting Administrator:

We write to demand that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acts swiftly to assist our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico recover from the recent earthquakes, and to demand that FEMA uses all of the authority granted under the Emergency Declaration to ensure the safety of lives and property across the island. The Emergency Declaration issued on January 7 is welcome, but merely a small, first step, as the destruction in impacted parts of Puerto Rico demands a comprehensive response and prompt approval of further levels of disaster aid which the situation clearly requires.

According to US Geological Survey, hundreds of small earthquakes have occurred over the past several weeks around Puerto Rico, beginning in earnest with a 4.7-magnitude earthquake late on December 28. On January 6, a 5.8-magnitude event rocked the island, followed yesterday morning by the 6.5-magnitude event that caused widespread damage. Tragically, yesterday’s earthquake claimed the life of a 73-year-old man in the southern city of Ponce and left at least eight others injured. Additionally, the Costa Sur power generation plant – the largest on Puerto Rico’s grid – was severely damaged by the earthquake and as of this morning, about 500,000 customers were still without power. Without power, the 300,000 Puerto Ricans who rely on electric water pumps are now also without water, which has obvious serious public health implications. Horrendously, there are reports that thousands of Puerto Ricans slept outside under tarps, in tents, or on mattresses because they feared their homes would collapse on their heads. 

Clearly, more must be done, and fast. The uneven and inadequate disaster response by FEMA, and other federal agencies, in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria make it even more crucial that Puerto Rico receives a swift, adequately resourced, and effectively coordinated response to this disaster. These earthquakes make it even more unconscionable the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) inaction in disbursing the $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding appropriated for mitigation projects in Puerto Rico. There is not substantive reason to withhold this congressionally-mandated disaster aid for our fellow Americans on the island; this money must be made available to Puerto Rico now. 

We call on FEMA to use all of the authority granted under the January 7 Emergency Declaration to provide Puerto Rico with the assistance they so desperately need, including the speedy completion of preliminary disaster assessments, and the prompt approval of other desperately needed levels of disaster aid. We thank the governor for her work thus far and stand ready to support her request for a Major Disaster Declaration if she requests one after FEMA’s Preliminary Damage Assessments.

We appreciate your swift attention and consideration of this request and stand ready to work with FEMA to deliver support and resources to the impacted communities.

Sincerely,

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