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Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

Representing the 7th District of New York

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Members of Congress Push Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico

Members of Congress Push Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico
September 25, 2017
Press Release

Request Jones Act Suspension, Exemption from FEMA Matching Funds

Washington, D.C. — Today, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) led fellow Members of Congress in writing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security calling for tangible steps to accelerate Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria.  The lawmakers are requesting that the Jones Act be temporarily waived in order 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).  

“When Hurricane Maria 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 Maria 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.  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 below. For a PDF, click 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 or Junta 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.  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. 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. 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. 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 Maria 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 Congresswoman Nydia 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.”

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

Full letter:

September 25, 2017

The Honorable Elaine Duke
Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Acting Secretary Duke: 

On September 20th, Puerto Rico endured a direct impact from the worst storm to make landfall on the island in nearly a century. People have lost their homes, entire communities have been displaced and families on the mainland have been unable to establish communication with relatives back home for days.  

In an island that was already plagued with an acute financial crisis, the destructive passage of Hurricane Maria is another crippling blow to the people and economy that threaten its recovery.  Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is without the necessary resources to self-finance its relief and recovery efforts.   

One area that was damaged severely was the aging power grid. The local government has already predicted that it may take up to six months to turn the lights back on.  While that may seem like hyperbole, to many Americans living in the mainland, the Island’s electric grid was already showcasing its vulnerabilities before Hurricane Maria. Last year, technical failures at the Aguirre power plant left one-third of the population without power. In August 2017, inclement weather caused power outages for over 40 thousand people. Just weeks ago, Irma left over 1 million Puerto Ricans without power.  A direct hit by a powerful storm was the worst-case scenario for the grid, and Hurricane Maria has now made that scenario a reality.  Efforts to get the island back on track will be extremely difficult. 

We are thankful that the Federal Government has stepped in and has already deployed its existing resources to ensure that Puerto Ricans affected by this horrific natural disaster are fed, clothed and housed. Every agency must act swiftly, in the way that America does when it faces an attack, natural or otherwise, on its own soil.  

As Members of Congress, we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that the Federal Government promote the economic development of every community across the country. The people of Puerto Rico have long been denied the same benefits provided to other American citizens. Today, the stakes are just too high.   

To that end, we are requesting two regulatory changes to expedite the delivery of essential supplies to the Island and provide the necessary relief for the local government to preserve its already limited financial resources so that it can provide citizens the essential services they need. 
Temporary Jones Act Waiver

The Marine Merchant Act of 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act, requires that all goods shipped between waterborne ports of the United States be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by Americans. 
The island is now facing an unprecedented uphill battle to rebuild its homes, businesses and communities. Temporarily loosening these requirements – for the express purpose of disaster recovery – will allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing, and building supplies. Therefore, we request the Department of Homeland Security to provide a one-year comprehensive waiver of the Jones Act requirements for Puerto Rico.  

Waiver of Federal Matching Requirements

As you know, federal regulation requires FEMA to enter into cost-sharing agreements for recovery programs.  However, Puerto Rico’s current economic conditions have already pushed the local government’s financial resources to the breaking point.  Requiring cost-sharing during this critical time could take local resources away from providing the essential services many citizens need.  We therefore urge the Department of Homeland Security to provide a waiver for any funding tied to disaster aid, emergency repairs and/or restoration.

Hurricane Maria has taken a significant toll on the Island, its infrastructure and its residents. The Federal Government has the duty to ensure these American citizens are provided the relief they need. By granting these temporary waivers, DHS can ensure we are doing everything we can to help American families in need.  

We look forward to working with you to ensure that the Island’s needs are kept at the forefront of any disaster relief efforts.   

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Nydia M. Velázquez               
Luis V. Gutiérrez
José E. Serrano            
Darren Soto                                                     
Adriano Espaillat
Joyce Beatty                                                   
Joe Crowley
            

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