Velázquez’s Floor Speech on House Disaster Relief Bill
Washington, DC –Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) spoke today on the House floor regarding the emergency supplemental appropriations bill for disaster relief. Below are her remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Speaker, the people of Puerto Rico – 3.5 million of our fellow citizens – are suffering. The mayor of my hometown, Yabucoa, says as many as 5,000 residents potentially face starvation. More than 85 percent of the Island is without electricity. One-third of Puerto Ricans lack access to drinkable water which will surge the number of bacterial infections and mosquito-borne illnesses.
“Using unreliable generators for electrical power – and with a shortage of diesel – hospitals and health centers are scaling back services for those in critical need. Most people on Island don’t even know what their neighbors are going through because communications systems were demolished by Maria.
“As Puerto Rico faces this humanitarian crisis, the President of the United States is Tweeting out threats to withdraw assistance. That is an outrage – and an abdication of the President’s solemn duty to protect the safety and security of the American people.
“Where the President is failing to lead, Congress must act – and act now. The legislation we are debating today is far from sufficient. It is not enough. But, it is the start -- a “down payment” in helping the response process. It will keep FEMA operating, removing debris and distributing food and water.
“It also helps Puerto Rico’s government address a looming cash shortfall. With the government running out of money by the first of November, vital services could be suspended -- when residents can least afford it.
“This bill will provide a short term cash infusion for the government to keep going. And, the way this assistance is structured under the law, these funds will likely not be paid back --- which is reasonable given the challenges Puerto Rico faces.
“Let’s be clear – there is going to need to be much more assistance in the future. Puerto Rico will need help rebuilding its energy grid, repairing telecommunications networks and putting its ports, bridges and roads back together. And, we cannot forget shoring up the Island’s Medicaid system – something that was critical before Maria – but is even more important now. This problem is of Congress’ making – and we must fix it.
“Make no mistake -- those priorities will require more money– and we will need to come back an address them in a few weeks.
“The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens. They have fought in our wars, shed blood and, in some cases, died for our freedoms. We cannot abandon them now. While this bill is a start, we must not rest until we have made Puerto Rico whole. I yield back.”
For a video of the speech, click here.