NYS Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force Calls for Massive Federal Aid for Puerto Rico

To avoid a worsening of the humanitarian crisis facing Americans on the Island, members of the New York State Assembly call on federal government to prepare for temporarily mass exodus from Puerto Rico and to provide resources to mainland communities providing shelter to Climate Refugees
September 27, 2017

One week after a the massive hurricane Maria directly hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico with storm surge of over 18 feet and winds of over 155 miles per hour that destroyed much of the islands infrastructure and has left the islands agriculture and business on the brink of financial ruin and its civilian population without power and clean drinking water and limited access to food, New York lawmakers are calling on the federal government to immediately provide mass military and FEMA assistance to the hardest hit communities and to provide financial resources to mainland communities which will see an influx of climate refugees from Puerto Rico. Lawmakers believe that only a mass and diligent effort from the federal government will prevent a worsening of the current humanitarian crisis and imminent disease outbreak on the island.

According to Marcos Crespo, chair of the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, “We have seen an outpouring of support for recovery and relief efforts in Puerto Rico but in many places on the island there is no access to clean drinking water, sewage and toxins from massive flooding is in homes, thousands have lost a place to call home, and the real possibility of a cholera or other major disease outbreak is very real.”

“Puerto Rico will rebuild but the massive damage caused by Hurricane Maria cannot be remedied with overnight. In the meantime, the suffering of the tens of thousands of families and children on the Island needs to be addressed immediately. That is why we are calling on the federal government to immediately begin the process of using FEMA and the US military to help rebuild the island. At the same time we are asking for the Federal government to provide sufficient resources and funding to mainland communities that will see a mass influx of climate refugees from Puerto Rico,” declared Crespo.

Puerto Rico’s current condition is critical and it can get much worse as:

  • President Trump has not yet issued a full disaster declaration for all of Puerto Rico. Right now, 24 of the 78 municipalities on the island are not eligible for FEMA grants to rebuild their homes.
  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan said earlier today: “We need to get our act together because people are dying.”
  • Nearly the entire island is still without power and reserves of gas and diesel are dangerously low, maybe 20 days left.
  • The Governor of Puerto Rico last night said that roughly 40% of people on the island lack access to potable water. Some estimates say as many as 65% don’t have access to potable water.
  • The food supply will last only another two weeks.
  • Fewer than 250 of the island’s 1,600 cellphone towers are operational.
  • The damage to one of the largest dams on the island has created the need another massive evacuation, but with 95% of cell phones out of service, the evacuations must be carried out by officials going door-to-door to the nearly 70,000 residents who are potentially in harm’s way.
  • Worse still, the damage to Puerto Rico’s roads, bridges, and ports has isolated many communities and delayed the arrival of aid.

He added, “Puerto Ricans now face extremely long-term efforts in having their homes rebuilt and in restoring clean water supplies, electricity and normal access to their basic needs. Many will begin to leave the Island for communities throughout New York State, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois and Connecticut. These states will need additional support from the federal government so they can provide shelter, food, health care and educational services to masses of American citizens fleeing the disaster in Puerto Rico.”

Specifically the federal government working directly with state agencies must quickly ensure:

  • Medicaid/Medicare waivers for access to health services because Puerto Ricans rely on the islands managed care system;
  • Allow healthcare professionals from Puerto Rico to work with their credentials in the mainland;
  • Provide housing assistance and variances to housing codes to allow extended families to reside in same units; and
  • Provide funding for school districts which will need to hire additional teachers and staff for children leaving the island.

Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx) stated, “It is clear to me that while federal efforts are underway to deal with the devastation, so much more needs to done -- and done IMMEDIATELY. That includes a major increase in emergency funding NOW, without hesitation for the details that can be dealt with later. Funding is needed now both for disaster relief efforts and priority reconstruction of cell phone towers, repair of power lines and evacuation efforts for those in danger of the breaching of the Guajataca Dam. For those left homeless and fleeing the island, it is also imperative that some master plan to deal with shelter and other needed resources be quickly put together and funded. These are U.S. citizens. As much as any citizens living in Texas or Florida or anywhere else where the federal government has quickly sprung into action, this is not a time for foot dragging or weak excuses.”

Assemblyman Erik Dilan (D-Kings) asserted, “As we continue to assess the aftermath of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it is evident that we must stand united as a country, which requires the federal government to step in and provide the necessary funding and military assistance. As New Yorkers we should continue to support any credible relief efforts because it is clear that the need for assistance will be long term.”

“The devastation created by Hurricane Maria has left millions without power and access to water. In New York, we are doing our part to aid our friends in Puerto Rico but the Trump administration needs to step up and fully declare Puerto Rico a disaster site. Recovery and rebuilding efforts will not be an easy fix, we need to make sure that Puerto Rico is fully funded and made whole again after this terrible tragedy,” stated Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriquez (D-Manhattan).

“With Puerto Rico on the cusp of a humanitarian disaster, it is absolutely essential that the Federal government provide all available aid to the island as quickly as possible” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens). “As such, I join Chair of the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force Marcos Crespo and my fellow task force colleagues in calling for a full disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, as well as for any and all additional support to be delivered to the island.”

Assemblyman Steve Otis (D - Westchester) stated, "It is vitally important that the federal government move quickly with sufficient resources and manpower to help the people of Puerto Rico rebuild the energy, water and communications systems destroyed by Hurricane Maria. The loss of infrastructure has been as devastating as any of our worst natural disasters on the mainland. A significant federal role is an absolute necessity."

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Queens) stated, "Puerto Rico and its people are on a long road to recovery that must be met with federal assistance to account for the extreme devastation brought by Hurricane Maria. More than 3.5 million American citizens are currently without electricity, shelter, and access to basic necessities. While New York continues to proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Puerto Rico, it is time for our federal government to make clear how it will contribute to the enormous relief efforts underway."

“The President is correct; Puerto Rico is an island. Typically the millions of puertorriqueños there enjoy the vibrant cities and terrain in contrast to the surrounding ocean. Maria left them with no food, water, utilities or the resources to respond to the devastation in the hurricane’s wake. Being an island compounds these problems. Puertorriqueños will do what is necessary to get back on their feet. They will also do what all masses do in the event of a disaster - they are going to be seeking refuge as recovery efforts continue and will be seeking it from their fellow Americans. We need to be able to provide the resources and comfort that comes with taking care of our own,” said State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (D-Kings).

“The impact of Hurricane Maria is truly horrific and has led to tragic circumstances of immense proportions,” Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx,). “For nearly an entire week, more than 3 million Puerto Ricans have been without basic services such as electricity and ready access to fresh water. It is essential to put the full weight of the federal government behind all possible efforts to assist with the ongoing recovery needs.”

“Governor Andrew Cuomo moved quickly to mobilize resources under his authority to help the people of Puerto Rico and has created a central state aid mechanism thru the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico. I am humbled to serve as one of this effort’s co-chairs,” Stated Crespo. “But as more and more information comes out of the ravaged communities of Puerto Rico, it is clear to me that the federal government will need to consider providing resources to assist those who will temporarily relocate from to mainland communities until the island is rebuilt.

Lawmakers also call on New Yorkers to support ongoing relief efforts. New York State has an official government website with information on how to help and can be viewed at:

https://www.ny.gov/programs/empire-state-relief-and-recovery-effort-puerto-rico