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Members of Congress push recovery plan for Puerto Rico

Lawmakers are requesting Jones Act suspension, and an exemption from FEMA matching funds to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane María. (Credit: National Weather Service)

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) led members of Congress in writing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security calling for tangible steps to accelerate Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane María.

The lawmakers are requesting that the Jones Act be temporarily waived to expedite supplies being shipped into the island’s ports.

Additionally, the letter asks that Puerto Rico be exempted from requirements that local resources match federal funds expended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Both issues were raised during an afternoon press conference by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan. He said lifting the FEMA matching funds requirement would open more possibilities for help from other state governments that would not have to worry about getting repaid for their expenses.

“When Hurricane María savaged the island, many of our deepest fears were realized,” said Velázquez.  “With a power grid that already faced serious infrastructure problems, the storm has shut down power for the entirety of Puerto Rico. Even before María made landfall, the island was already suffering from economic and financial crisis.”

“Now, at the worst time possible, the Island has endured a natural disaster of historic proportions,” she said. “Puerto Rican are Americans who have fought in nearly every major conflict, shedding blood and giving their lives for our country. We cannot and will not turn our backs on them.”

The full text of the letter is HERE.

The Mayor of New York praised the letter and offered his support.

“New York City stands with Puerto Rico, including more than 700,000 New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. We support and applaud Congresswoman Velazquez and her colleagues’ efforts to ensure that recovery and rebuilding can begin as soon as possible. New Yorkers stand at the ready to assist however we can,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, City of New York.

“Puerto Rico is broke and the federal government already controls the purse strings through the financial control board that was imposed by Congress,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL).

“Puerto Rico can’t borrow funds and they are required to use American shipping only, which is the most expensive in the world,” he said. “In their hour of need, Washington can help by suspending the Jones Act and suspending cost-sharing obligations. Puerto Rico was closing schools and hospitals and laying off cops before the two hurricanes hit this month, so Washington should go these extra steps.”

“The destruction in Puerto Rico is devastating, and we need every tool at our disposal to help recover and rebuild,” said Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY). “These two steps can be taken immediately to help ensure the island receives essential supplies and gets the immediate assistance it needs without dangerous and harmful delays.”

“Puerto Rico just faced a deadly Category 4 hurricane, which crumbled their sensitive infrastructure leading to a complete blackout on the island,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL). “It is now essential to get fuel as quickly as possible to keep life sustaining equipment running.”

“Temporarily lifting the Jones Act restrictions will help this cause. In addition, Puerto Rico is in a major state of financial distress. If matching funds are required as a condition for federal emergency relief, many Puerto Ricans will suffer and possibly die,” Soto said. “As fellow citizens of the United States, we must stand with Puerto Ricans during this extremely tragic moment.”

“This is a critical time of life and death for millions in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). “The efforts to rebuild will be great and we each have a role to play to help these families recover following the aftermath of these catastrophic storms.”

“We have witnessed so much devastation this hurricane season, and the impact has been particularly destructive and reaped havoc — leaving millions of families without shelter, electricity, and their lives in ruins,” Espaillat.

“We all have a part to play in the recovery efforts, and we each must answer that call to provide relief and aid in the immense rebuilding efforts that it will take to assist all who have been affected,” he said.

“We are requesting two regulatory changes to expedite the delivery of essential supplies to Puerto Rico and to provide the necessary relief for the local government to preserve its already limited financial resources during this critical time of need.”

“Hurricane María decimated the territory of Puerto Rico causing unprecedented devastation,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH).  “Puerto Rico and its citizens are now facing a humanitarian and economic crisis that requires immediate action.”

“That is why I joined Velázquez and other Congressional leaders in sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to request a temporary suspension of the Jones Act to ensure that Puerto Rico has access to much-needed supplies, as well as a waiver for federal matching requirements to guarantee that local officials have the necessary resources to provide essential services to the more than three million people who call the island home,” Beatty said.

“Puerto Rico is in a crisis. Congress must act to ensure that the Americans living on the island have the resources and assistance needed to rebuild their homes and communities,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-NY).

“These temporary changes will help to ramp up the efforts helping Puerto Ricans recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane María. They are especially needed as reports indicate families are struggling to find adequate shelter, drinking water, and access to health care,” he said. “More must be done, and I stand firmly in support of getting Puerto Rico the federal resources it needs.”

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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