Congressional Democrats Call For Better Plan For Puerto Rico

Oct 12, 2017

Democratic members of Congress are denouncing President Trump’s latest tweets about Puerto Rico. A Connecticut senator who has visited the Commonwealth is calling on Trump to appoint a czar to oversee recovery efforts. And a New York congresswoman who leaves for the island Friday is urging Congress to pass an emergency funding bill.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal blasted a morning tweet from the president that said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the military and other first responders cannot stay on the island forever. Blumenthal says the federal relief effort is inadequate and unacceptable.

“American relief efforts in Puerto Rico have been too little, too late and now in continuing disarray.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in.

“I think we were late in deploying in Puerto Rico. And I think, in many ways, that’s why the emergency efforts have gone on so long because we were late in deploying,” Cuomo says. “But you never leave Americans in need. You leave when the job is done, and the job isn’t done.”

Blumenthal penned a letter to Trump asking for the following.

“I am calling today for a disaster relief czar who can cut through the bureaucratic red tape and rigmarole, and reorganize disaster relief efforts on the island to make sure that people receive the food and water and other essentials they need and to make sure that the electric grid is restored,” Blumenthal says.

He says the czar should develop a Marshall Plan for longer-term recovery, using private and public resources.

“As you’ll recall, a Marshall Plan was developed for war-ravaged Europe,” says Blumenthal. “We’re dealing here with fellow Americans and the disaster on the island is equally devastating. I saw it myself.”

And Hudson Valley Congresswoman Nita Lowey, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, will see it for herself when she travels to Puerto Rico Friday as part of a delegation that includes Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Lowey delivered remarks on the House floor Thursday urging Congress to pass the $36.5 billion emergency funding bill for disaster relief and criticizing President Trump’s threat to abandon the recovery effort. Lowey spoke with WAMC’s Alan Chartock on the Congressional Corner later in the day.

“I’m pleased that the speaker asked me to visit Puerto Rico to see the devastation firsthand, to meet with local officials and first responders,” Lowey says. “And, today, we’re going to pass the first tranche of money, and I know how critical it is. So much has to be done to provide medium, long-term investments that played a critical role in helping recover from other crippling storms like Katrina and Sandy.”

Included in the $36.5 billion emergency supplemental legislation that the House was voting on Thursday is more than $18 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, $4.9 billion of which is meant to help stabilize Puerto Rican and local governments’ finances in storm-affected areas. And as she told WAMC, she hopes for a more comprehensive approach.

“I hope that after we see the devastation, the speaker and Chairman Frelinghuysen will work with me on a complete plan,” Lowey says.

She refers to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of the 18th District visited the island last week as part of an earlier delegation that included Blumenthal.

“The three critical industries in Puerto Rico are tourism, agriculture and the pharmaceutical industry,” Maloney says. “All three are dead in the water because of the lack of electricity or just because of damage.”

He says that means Puerto Rico effectively has no economy and no means to address its debt crisis.