Gov. Wanda Vázquez confirmed late Tuesday that President Donald Trump signed the Commonwealth’s request for an Emergency Declaration for Puerto Rico following a string of earthquakes that caused significant damage and at least one casualty.
This opens the doors for federal agencies, especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to provide direct assistance to the island.
“A few minutes ago, I received a call from the Acting Administrator of FEMA, Pete Gaynor, to notify me that President Trump had signed our request for an Emergency Declaration for Puerto Rico,” Vázquez said. “Grateful for the prompt attention of the President of the United States.”
The president’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to save lives, to protect property, public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.
“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency,” the agency said in a statement.
Emergency protective measures (Category B), limited to direct federal assistance under the Public Assistance program, will be provided at 75% federal funding. This assistance is for all 78 municipalities.
FEMA confirmed that Alexis Amparo has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal response operations in the affected area.
Earlier in the day, a number of Congressional lawmakers urged Trump to approve Puerto Rico’s Disaster Declaration, including Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who sent a letter to the president urging him “to ensure that full federal resources are made available for American citizens in Puerto Rico following three major earthquakes in the commonwealth.”
“We write in support of the governor’s request and urge that you instruct the different agencies of the executive branch, including FEMA, U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and all others with jurisdiction and capabilities to promptly provide the necessary support,” the lawmakers said in the joint letter.
“The localities that are grappling with the effects of the earth tremors are smaller municipalities that do not have the necessary resources to handle the situation alone, and the Puerto Rico local agencies are taxed to their limits by their fiscal condition and the continuing larger recovery effort,” they added.
In a separate push, six Democrat lawmakers — Nydia Velázquez, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. David Price (D-NC) — sent a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson urging the agency to release $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) that Congress appropriated in June 2019 to respond to Hurricanes Irma and María.
In October 2019, when Carson testified before the Financial Services Committee, Velázquez also asked him why his agency had not released the funding.
“When Ben Carson testified, he told me they had withheld funds from Puerto Rico out of ‘common sense’,” Velázquez said. “Not only does it defy common sense to withhold these overdue funds now, when the island just suffered an earthquake, but doing so is immoral and illegal.”
“We don’t know yet whether additional funds will be needed to help Puerto Rico recover from these recent earthquakes, but we know that withholding previously approved resources following this latest catastrophe is simply inexcusable,” Velázquez added. “Today, we are demanding that HUD follow the law and provide Puerto Rico with the assistance they were previously allocated.”