Press Release ● Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
For Immediate Release: 
March 10, 2020
Contact Info: 
Mariel Saez (Hoyer) 202-225-3130
Bayley Sandy (DeFazio), 202-225-4472
WASHINGTON, DC - After two Congressional delegation trips to Puerto Rico to examine disaster recovery and response efforts, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) led a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor urging him to approve permanent repair or replacement assistance to help communities recover from recent natural disasters on the island.

“The damage that we observed in many municipalities across southern Puerto Rico are not only devastating to those communities today, they will adversely impact those areas as we approach another hurricane season. Several public schools and other government facilities that serve as community shelters in times of need have either collapsed, shifted from their foundations, or are otherwise structurally unsafe and require permanent repair or replacement. Absent the approval of Categories C-G [which provide Federal assistance for permanent infrastructure repair or replacement], the only Federal assistance available to these municipalities is for demolition of unsafe structures and debris removal,” the Members wrote.

In addition to Leader Hoyer and Chair DeFazio, the following Members signed the letter:  Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Representative Andre Carson (D-IN), Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), and Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

To read the full letter, click here or see below:

March 6, 2020

The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor
Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20472-0001     

Dear Administrator Gaynor:

We write to express our concerns regarding deficiencies in Federal assistance provided by DR-4473-PR, the Major Disaster declaration granted to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for a series of significant earthquakes beginning on December 28, 2019 and ending on February 4, 2020. To date, the President and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have only partially responded to the January 11, 2020 request from Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced.

Last month, we led separate Congressional delegations to assess the ongoing recovery efforts in the Commonwealth from the unprecedented 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as to assess the damages to infrastructure and conditions for survivors resulting from the quakes. The ongoing hurricane recovery work between FEMA and the Commonwealth’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3) is encouraging. Unfortunately, we are troubled that you have yet to approve permanent repair Federal assistance via Categories C-G of the Public Assistance program more than two months following the Governor’s initial request.

The damages that we observed in many municipalities across southern Puerto Rico are not only devastating to those communities today, they will adversely impact those areas as we approach another hurricane season. Several public schools and other government facilities that serve as community shelters in times of need have either collapsed, shifted from their foundations, or are otherwise structurally unsafe and require permanent repair or replacement. Absent the approval of Categories C-G, the only Federal assistance available to these municipalities is for demolition of unsafe structures and debris removal.

In a January 14, 2020 briefing to Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, then FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery, Jeffrey Byard, was asked if the damages from the magnitude 6.4 quake of January 7 had reached a severity aligned with other disaster events that were eventually granted a Major Disaster declaration pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to include the full complement of Public Assistance. Byard responded in the affirmative. Now, more than seven weeks later, the Commonwealth is still awaiting approval regarding Categories C-G.

Per the Stafford Act, now that the President has granted the declaration, you have the authority to amend the declaration accordingly. We applaud your decision to do so multiple times since the initial declaration, including making impacted survivors eligibile for Individual Assistance. Now, we are calling on you to amend the declaration at least once more to grant approval for the Commonwealth to receive Federal assistance under Public Assistance Categories C-G.

It is imperative that you address this issue now so that Puerto Rico can begin its recovery to these earthquakes as soon as possible, alongside the ongoing recoveries from the 2017 hurricanes.

We look forward to your immediate attention to this matter. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Aaron Davis on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure staff at (202) 225-9961 or Trent Bauserman in the Office of the Majority Leader at (202) 225-3130.

Sincerely,

STENY H. HOYER
Member of Congress     

PETER A. DeFAZIO
Member of Congress

CAROLYN B. MALONEY
Member of Congress     

NYDIA M. VELÁZQUEZ
Member of Congress

JESÚS G. “CHUY” GARCÍA
Member of Congress     

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ
Member of Congress

ANDRÉ CARSON
Member of Congress