More than four months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, nearly 450,000 of Puerto Rico’s 1.5 million people are still without power. Residents of some parts of Puerto Rico found themselves in catastrophic conditions after the monster storm ripped through the U.S. territory, in dire need of federal assistance to deliver necessities like food and water.
On Wednesday, all of that aid will end -- on Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would “officially shut off” food and water to Puerto Ricans, handing over the remaining food and water supplies to Puerto Rican officials for distribution.
FEMA says it’s time for aid to be cut off since only one percent of Puerto Ricans need the aid, but not everyone is convinced the agency’s decision is in the best interest of the Puerto Rican people.
Over 215,000 Puerto Ricans have fled to the Sunshine State following the storm and Florida politicians were quick to respond to Tuesday’s announcement, upset over the agency’s decision to cut off aid to the struggling island.
“FEMA cutting food and water aid to Puerto Rico, while more than 1/3 of the island is still without power, is a travesty,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Nelson, who has pushed for providing more financial aid to the area in recent months and visited Puerto Rico, said he would be heading to the Senate floor Tuesday to call on the Trump administration to reverse FEMA’s decision and continue providing funding for the people of Puerto Rico.
The Florida Democratic Party criticized the Trump administration for “abandoning American citizens” during their time of need.
"The announcement that aid would end on January 31 is both heartbreaking and shows an absolute lack of respect for fellow citizens,” said Florida Democratic Party senior spokesman Caroline Rowland.
So far, FEMA has approved over $500 million in public assistance related to Hurricane Maria -- and in Florida, responding to the influx of Puerto Ricans has been a top priority for Gov. Rick Scott.
Earlier this month, Scott signed an executive order extending the state’s support for Puerto Ricans displaced by the storm.
“Puerto Rico was totally devastated by Hurricane Maria and so many families lost everything. With families displaced by Hurricane Maria already present and still arriving in Florida, it is critical that our state is prepared to provide the resources they need upon entering our state," the governor said when signing the order in October.
Federal officials say the aid isn’t necessary anymore and is negatively impacting the economy of Puerto Rico, which has struggled to recover as families lost their entire lives as a result of Hurricane Maria.
"If we're giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy," FEMA Puerto Rico director Alejandro De La Campa told NPR on Tuesday. "It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we're providing to families and the municipalities, they're able to go back to the normal economy."
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.