Velázquez Remarks on Puerto Rico One Year Post-Maria
Washington, DC – On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) held a press event in New York City. Below are her remarks, as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you all for coming. Let me especially thank Mayor De Blasio for joining us.
“Today marks one year to the day since Hurricane Maria made landfall in my hometown of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Given this solemn anniversary I thought that it would make sense to bring us all together to reflect on what the past year has meant for the people of the Island and, equally important, to discuss how we move forward.
“It does not give me any pleasure to say this, but I think it is now widely acknowledged that the Administration’s response to Maria has been an abject failure. The simple fact is that our federal government did not pre-position assets in place when they knew a Category 4 hurricane was barreling toward a vulnerable Island. After the Hurricane hit, the Administration’s response can be described as sluggish – at best.
“We know now that this tragically inadequate response cost nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens their lives. Whether it was from falling trees or debris, or from a dialysis machine not having power to operate, or from the suicide rate spiking during the longest blackout in American history – make no mistake – these deaths are attributed to Maria and, even worse, to this Administration’s woeful response.
“This incompetence, this indifference, and this refusal to accept the dire reality starts at the top. That’s evidenced by the offensive Tweets the President put out questioning the death toll in Puerto Rico.
“Yesterday, I joined with Senator Elizabeth Warren in leading more than 130 of my colleagues in writing Donald Trump to demand an apology and to retract those remarks, which are beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.
“But, this is not just about coldhearted Tweets – or a war of words. This is about life and death – and how our government failed 3.5 million of our fellow citizens. The American people deserve to know what happened, and why it happened. I’ve introduced legislation to establish a “9/11 style” commission that would provide a full report on what happened after Maria. I’ve also introduced the “COUNT Act”, which would establish federal procedures for establishing death tolls after disasters. So, there needs to be accountability – and a recognition of how badly our nation failed our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.
“This includes Congressional oversight. Unfortunately, rather than holding meaningful hearings or working to improve disaster response, Republicans in Congress have bent over backwards to protect the Administration. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to get to the bottom of what happened, but Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have abdicated that responsibility. That is shameful.
“But, beyond exposing what went wrong, we also need to look to the future --- and take tangible steps to help the Island get back on its feet. One important step would be allocating funds to address Puerto Rico’s Medicaid shortfall. Even before Maria, the Commonwealth was facing a looming healthcare crisis. Now, that problem has been exacerbated. Congress needs to act and act quickly.
“Second, it is time to dispense with Puerto Rico’s debt. The Wall Street hedge funds and others who gambled that they could make billions by tearing the Island apart must be stopped once and for all. I’ve introduced legislation that would create a path for the Island to terminate their debt obligations.
“Those are two, tangible items that the House and Senate could pass, right now, to help speed Puerto Rico on the path to recovery. As we look forward, one last component needs to be in building a sustainable, energy infrastructure. Puerto Rico gets sunshine 365 days a year. It has ample wind, that could power thousands of turbines. Yet, the bulk of the Island’s energy comes from diesel fuel. That make no sense and it needs to change – for two related reasons.
“First, as we saw from Maria, from Harvey, from Irma, and most recently Florence – as our planet warms, these types of storms are becoming more frequent and more intense. Puerto Rico’s energy future needs to help solve climate change --- not worsen it.
“Second, a smarter, more sustainable energy grid will be a more resilient energy grid. Imagine if when Maria struck, rather than transmission lines in rural areas taking ten months to repair – if instead local communities had stored up solar power – and had the lights back on in 24 or 72 hours. How much suffering would that have prevented? How many lives might have been saved? So sustainable energy needs to be part of the conversation.
“I have said before and I will say it again – New York shares a unique and unbreakable bond with Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are our brothers and sisters. They are family. And New Yorkers take care of our family.
“So, as we continue fighting for a brighter future, I am proud to be joined by so many New Yorkers today who have contributed so much to helping Puerto Rico come back.”