A week after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, members of the Florida delegation continue to push the federal government to increase its relief efforts.
Hurricane Maria’s impact is still being felt in Puerto Rico as half of the island’s residents do not have running water and millions are still without power.
On Wednesday, Florida’s two U.S. senators--Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio--wrote President Donald Trump in support of the governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands asking for more federal help. Nelson and Rubio sent a similar letter to the president and other key members of the administration last week.
“We write in full support of the requests made by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp for additional federal assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Nelson and Rubio wrote. “As you well know, Hurricane Maria caused extreme devastation to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, leaving millions without power, communications, and water. This is a life threatening situation, as a great majority are unable to contact law enforcement or their loved ones.
“We urge you to leverage all available resources to assist those affected by this natural disaster,” the senators continued. “The Department of Defense, in particular, has performed valiantly in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Our brave men and women in uniform are well equipped, trained, and tempered to handle the dire situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Given Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact, federal assistance is imperative to ensure a full recovery from the storm. We urge you to approve the requests made by Governors Rosselló and Mapp for additional federal resources to assist with lifesaving and recovery efforts. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you on these matters.”
Nelson took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to push for more federal assistance to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“We need to act with urgency and purpose to aid Puerto Rico in their time of need,” Nelson said. “In a crisis, all that matters is saving lives and giving people the resources they need to get back on their feet.”
Nelson also insisted that the $15 billion Congress allocated to help recent hurricane victims is not sufficient.
“The cost of rebuilding is going to be in the billions,” Nelson said. “We have done a temporary measure of $15 billion. That’s running out. We’re going to have to do something in the immediate for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but there is going to be a continuing cost in Texas and a huge cost in Florida.
“I hope that we can work together to get an aid package soon that helps all of those affected by the storms as soon as possible,” Nelson concluded. “Why? Because we are all Americans. We need to act like it. We need to come together and get on the long road to recovery.”
Rubio also took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and pointed to his trip to Puerto Rico earlier in the week where he saw the hurricane’s impact first hand.
“I had the opportunity yesterday to, along with the Coast Guard and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer Gonzalez to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico, and firsthand see some of the devastation that has impacted this U.S. territory. I would summarize it by saying that what I saw is over three and half million American citizens potentially on the verge of a serious and growing humanitarian crisis,” Rubio said. “[I]n many cases, the government of Puerto Rico still does not have a full assessment of the damage of the storm. Because while in San Juan communication is still severally limited, in most of the other areas of the big island and the smaller islands, communication is nonexistent – something brought to me firsthand yesterday when we visited one of the Coast Guard centers and watched as much of the response that they’re conducting there is limited to a paper map on a wall with some sticky notepads, and four land lines that they hope people can call in and give them some updates on what they were seeing in the field from the satellite phone. Now hopefully that has improved over the last 24 hours as more Coast Guard vessels came in to support communications, but we still have large parts of Puerto Rico that have not communicated with the rest of the island or the government or the outside world for that matter, going on six days.
“While the response to this storm will take a significant amount of patience, it will also take a significant amount of urgency,” Rubio added. “For each day that goes by, this crisis will get worse, not better. And I fear that if in fact there is not enough urgency in the response, we will be talking about a very different set of stories in the days to come. I hope I’m wrong, with all of my heart. But I fear that when communications does come back up, and when we start getting more access to some of these areas that have been cut off, we’re going to start learning that the toll and the impact of this storm is far worse than we had imagined."
Rubio noted “over 3 million American citizens in danger, and a number of them, perhaps in the thousands, that already have existing vulnerabilities, in extreme danger of losing their life, and extraordinary human suffering” and called for more relief efforts.
Over on the other side of Capitol Hill, the U.S. House unanimously passed an proposal from a Florida congresswoman making sure Puerto Ricans are treated equally under the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program which provides funds for states and territories for home visitation parenthood and early childhood programs. Murphy’s office noted that currently MIECHV relies on data to provide funds to state programs which often leave out Puerto Rico and the various territories.
“The MIECHV program invests in our children in a way that strengthens families, helps lift them out of poverty, and increases the chance that they will become productive and successful citizens. My amendment simply ensures that Puerto Rico gets its fair share of this important federal investment,” Murphy said after the House passed her proposal. “The unanimous passage of my amendment helps underscore Congress’ commitment to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’re all part of one American family, and I’ll continue working across party lines to ensure that Puerto Rico receives this nation’s full and equal support.”
At the end of last week, Murphy signed on a letter from U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., urging the Trump administration to send more funds to help Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. South Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also signed that letter.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., also weighed in on the situation on Tuesday.
"Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico and left a startling degree of destruction in its wake,” DeSantis said. “I applaud the Trump administration for quickly deploying assets to the island; this is an 'all hands on deck' situation that requires a massive response. Congress needs to ensure that the response is adequately funded so that food and water can be delivered and so that the power grid can be rebuilt as soon as humanely possible. In addition, bureaucratic obstacles to relief, such as suspension of the Jones Act, should be removed so that necessary supplies can quickly be moved to Puerto Rico."
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