With Puerto Rico in Crisis, Schumer & Reps Velàzquez, Serrano Demand White House Appoint Emergency ‘Chief Executive Of Response & Recovery’ With Direct Line To President; 80% Of Island Still Has No Power, Ports Are a Mess; Supplies Can’t Get In; Clean Water Lacking; New Position Would Bring All Fed Agencies Together To Turn Lights Back On, Get Clean Water Flowing, Help Millions Recover
It’s Been More Than A Month Since Maria Devastated Puerto Rico; More Than One Million American Citizens Still Do Not Have Access to Running Water; Millions Lack Electricity; This Is Unacceptable President Trump Said Everything Is Going Great—But Even A Quick Look At Island Shows That Is Not The Case; Desperate Situation Needs Correction; Schumer Just Met Personally With Puerto Rico Governor Rossello; FEMA Alone Doesn’t Have Ability To Manage Disaster Schumer: White House Must Appoint ‘CEO OfOctober 22, 2017
Amidst continued crisis from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, today, urged the White House to immediately appoint an experienced emergency “CEO of Response & Recovery” to coordinate the federal response in Puerto Rico. Schumer said this individual would have a direct line and access to the President, the Governor of Puerto Rico, all Cabinet Secretaries, members of Congress, and local Puerto Rican officials to help coordinate relief efforts and assist Puerto Rico in developing a plan for recovery and rebuilding, and executing that plan. Schumer said that the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been disorganized, slow-footed and mismanaged. Puerto Rico has been completely devastated, and is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. One month after the hurricane, one million American citizens still do not have access to running water, and millions lack electricity. Schumer, today, said that FEMA alone does not have the ability to manage the disaster and is stretched too thin.
“It’s been more than a month since Maria, but 80% of the lights in Puerto Rico are still out, and American citizens are unsure about where their next glass of clean water will come from—this is just unconscionable and demands new action,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “That is why I am demanding the White House immediately appoint an emergency “CEO of Response and Recovery” for Puerto Rico. This person will have the ability to bring all the federal agencies together, cut red tape on the public and private side, help turn the lights back on, get clean water flowing and help bring about recovery for millions of Americans who have gone too long in some of the worst conditions. It is clear, FEMA alone cannot get the job done. ”
Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY) said, “It’s tragically clear this Administration was caught flat footed when Maria hit Puerto Rico. Everyone knew a historically catastrophic hurricane was barreling toward an island with vulnerable infrastructure, yet there wasn’t a meaningful plan in place to efficiently deploy federal resources. The result has been a sluggish response, causing additional needless suffering among the people of Puerto Rico. We can’t change what already happened, but the President can change course and put the full force of the federal government to work assisting our fellow American citizens. Appointing a CEO of Response and Recovery will, at last, put one person with authority in charge to manage the response and ensure we are finally getting the people of Puerto Rico the aid they need.”
"A month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, most of the island is still in the dark, communication is limited, and thousands are still living in shelters. It's time for the Trump Administration to give this crisis the attention it deserves. Immediately after Hurricane Maria, I called for the creation of a White House Task Force to coordinate relief efforts post Hurricane Maria. The appointment of a CEO or "czar" is a similar idea to help streamline coordination efforts and make sure Puerto Rico's needs are met. President Trump should take this as an opportunity to show he does care about what the 3.4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico are going through," said Congressman Serrano.
Schumer today said there are several examples of why we need better coordination and management. One, there are too many different chains of command working all on their own. Two, we need better coordination of bringing people to Puerto Rico from the mainland because supplies are not getting to the people who need them, that includes water and food. Schumer said, thirdly, the CEO would coordinate which federal agencies best can get needed supplies to the people of Puerto Rico.
FEMA is currently responding to multiple major disasters—from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas to the devastating wildfires blazing across California and as a result, Schumer said that their ability to manage the disaster recovery in Puerto Rico is clearly inadequate. For instance, Puerto Rico’s governor submitted a request for federal funding nearly three weeks ago, however, FEMA has yet to provide its stamp of approval on the federal dollars that would allow the Commonwealth to be reimbursed for rebuilding roads and bridges, water control facilities, public utilities, and more. The scale of the destruction and the complexity of the recovery process in Puerto Rico necessitates an experienced, high-level official with his or her sole focus on helping to coordinate and facilitate the emergency response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
Schumer said an emergency “CEO of Response & Recovery” to assist Puerto Rico would:
- Help coordinate emergency response activities among the various federal agencies, from FEMA, to DoD, to the Department of Energy, to the Treasury Department.
- Work with the Puerto Rican government and local officials to ensure that every municipality in Puerto Rico receives all possible resources, personnel, and support from the federal government.
- Oversee electric grid restoration, repair, and rebuilding.
- Help facilitate timely and accurate damage assessments to ensure that Puerto Rico will receive all of the resources it needs in upcoming emergency supplemental appropriations bills.
- Oversee disaster assistance distribution and federal contractual arrangements to ensure that there is no waste, fraud, or abuse.
- Assist the Puerto Rican Governor and municipalities in developing long-term plans for recovery and rebuilding in a more resilient and cost effective way.
The official death toll in Puerto Rico has risen to 49, with reports of dozens of individuals still missing. Currently, only 73% of Puerto Ricans have access to running water. According to a CNN report, more than a third of individuals in Puerto Rico are without certifiably safe drinking water, amounting to about one million Puerto Ricans suffering without access to clean water. Without sufficient shipments of clean water in Puerto Rico, the likelihood for contraction of cholera and diarrheal diseases will undoubtedly increase, Schumer said.
Moreover, 80 percent of the island is still without electricity, meaning some have not had power for 45 days, since Hurricane Irma hit in September. The Army Corps of Engineers has said it needs 2,000 additional workers to help with restoring the power, yet it has only brought in approximately 200 workers. Downed power lines remain on the ground. Currently, only 33 percent of the island’s cell sites are functional, and only 53 percent of cell towers have been fully restored. The lack of power has drastically impacted the ability of hospitals to care for the surplus of patients they have received, and many hospitals are still running on generators.
Furthermore, there has been a shortage of medication and other healthcare supplies, leaving many individuals at risk. Many Puerto Ricans with diseases have been unable to receive the specialized treatments that they need. According to reports, 16% of Puerto Ricans live with diabetes, one of the highest rates in all of the United States. Insulin, the hormone taken through an IV to regulate blood sugar levels, needs to be kept at 77 degrees, and temperatures have stayed far above that in the weeks since the storm, even in the evening.
Just offshore of Puerto Rico, the USNS Comfort, a vessel equipped with a fully operational hospital, could prove to be instrumental in the road to recovery for many seeking medical attention. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to get patients onto the ship. As of Friday, just 43 of the 250 beds on the USNS Comfort were occupied, despite the ship’s arrival weeks ago.
On October 19th, Governor Ricardo Rossello met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the recovery efforts. Rossello said that “the reality is that we still need to do a lot more for the people of Puerto Rico… This is not over -- not over by a longshot.” However, when asked how he would grade the White House’s response to the disaster in Puerto Rico, President Trump said he would give it a “ten.”