Op-Ed ● Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
For Immediate Release: 
February 28, 2020
Contact Info: 
Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
Wanted to be sure you saw this op-ed by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) in The Orlando Sentinel today. Following their recent Congressional delegation visit to Puerto Rico, the Members urged Senate Republicans to take action on the House-passed emergency supplemental funding bill to assist the island in responding to ongoing earthquakes. To read the op-ed, click here or see below:

Orlando Sentinel 

U.S. House Members Urge Senate: Help Puerto Rico

By Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Nydia M. Velázquez, Carolyn B. Maloney And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

February 28, 2020

Imagine if a 6.4-magnitude earthquake shook your community, causing your child’s three-story middle school to collapse, each floor pancaking onto the one below. First, you’d hold your child tight and be thankful no one was injured.

But what would happen next? How long would it take for the school to be rebuilt? Where would your child study in the meantime? What would happen to the students and their families who also lost their homes?

These are many of the questions that parents, students, and teachers in southern Puerto Rico are grappling with today as they confront ongoing earthquakes and aftershocks that have devastated their communities.

We just returned from visiting the island and touring the site of Agripina Seda, a middle school in Guánica, Puerto Rico, which collapsed in early January. The building will need to be completely rebuilt. In the meantime, educators and parents are scrambling to get students back into the classroom.

With the help of federal and local officials as well as the American Federation of Teachers, the school’s principals, teachers, and parents secured tents to set up in a field, some using wooden pallets for floors, for the time being.

Survivors of the earthquakes and of the devastating hurricanes of 2017 have already demonstrated substantial personal initiative in recovering from this disaster and getting students back to their classes as quickly as possible, but this solution is only temporary. It is critical that they receive all of the federal assistance necessary not only to recover but to rebuild in a stronger, more resilient way that can prevent damage from future natural disasters.

We returned from our congressional delegation visit with a renewed commitment to ensuring that the $4.7 billion in emergency disaster relief funding passed by the House on Feb. 7 becomes law.

It is shameful that many of our Republican colleagues in the House did not join us in supporting this funding, which responds to the earthquakes and would rebuild communities, repair damaged infrastructure like the school we visited, and provide nutrition assistance — all critical needs that we witnessed while on the ground.

It is unacceptable that the Republican-led Senate also sits on this critical bill, unconsidered, while thousands of our fellow citizens are living in shelters, are unable to attend school, or live without reliable power.

Those who say the additional funding is unnecessary do not understand the substantial needs or the realities of the island. Yes, the Congress has appropriated $44 billion for Puerto Rico’s recovery following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but the island is now responding to a separate disaster — a series of 500 earthquakes over magnitude 2.0 — that requires additional funding, and there is no reason why that assistance should be further delayed. In fact, aid previously allocated in response to the hurricanes cannot legally be used for earthquake recovery.

Those who say we shouldn’t help the island because of corruption are peddling a false narrative to excuse their inaction.

In fact, the FEMA officials on the ground confirmed that the Puerto Rican government is strictly complying with transparency and accountability measures and that those measures are among the most robust in the nation to safeguard taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, this Administration has a long history of using corruption as a false pretext to slow aid to Puerto Rico. Under this president, the Department of Housing and Urban Development held back billions in disaster relief, citing corruption, even though that agency’s own Inspector General had written a memo suggesting proper controls were in place and the money should be released.

Following the back-to-back natural disasters suffered by the people of Puerto Rico, they deserve the same swift and full recovery effort that Florida, Texas, and any other state in our nation would receive.

We must provide the emergency supplemental funding passed by the House, and we are urging Republican senators — particularly Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — to ask Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put this bill on the Senate floor now. Words of support are not enough. Puerto Ricans deserve action.

In addition to putting pressure on the Senate to act, we will also work to address another challenge we saw on the ground: the inability of the Puerto Rican government and municipalities to access capital to begin construction projects.

Many states have a rainy-day fund or can issue bonds to fund projects following a natural disaster, which FEMA can then reimburse with recovery funding appropriated by Congress. However, the Puerto Rican government and many municipalities on the island do not have access to that kind of capital and are unable to move forward without it.

To the people of Puerto Rico: we see you, we hear you, and the Congress will not forget you. We will continue to advocate fiercely on your behalf. We will make it clear to anyone who stands in the way of your ability to recover and rebuild: you will be held accountable.

Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, is House Majority Leader. Velázquez, a Democrat from New York, is chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business. Maloney, a Democrat from New York, is chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Ocasio-Cortez is a Democratic congresswoman from New York.