San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz blasts FEMA decision to end food, water aid to Puerto Rico

Substance credit to SUZANNE GAMBOA, NBC NEWS, with editorial comments by Riley Allen.

WASHINGTON — The mayor of San Juan on Tuesday denounced the U.S. government’s plan to end emergency food and water aid to Puerto Rico, saying she had just sent powdered milk to a school that was still without power and struggling to find the necessary supplies for its students.

“Yesterday, I had to help — because it is a moral imperative to help — a school about 45 minutes from San Juan that still has no water, no electricity and no milk for their children,” the mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, said.

Image: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz speaks
File photo of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 1, 2017. Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

The school is public and serves many poor children around the town of Morovis. Cruz said she has received calls from other schools requesting food, "but it really has to be the government."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said in a statement that commercial supplies of food and water have been re-established in Puerto Rico and that private suppliers are “sufficiently available that FEMA commodities are no longer needed for emergency operations." 

Image: Morales washes dishes in a bucket outside a her home, in Yabucoa
Jazmin Morales washes dishes in a bucket outside a her home damaged during Hurricane Maria in September 2017, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico January 29, 2018. ALVIN BAEZ / Reuters

"The reality is that we just need to look around. Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal," Alejandro De La Campa, FEMA's director in Puerto Rico, told NPR. 35% of the island still has NO POWER. That's not "back to normal."

Cruz disagreed that the situation has improved as much as FEMA said. “While I’m standing here with you there are children without food in Puerto Rico,” Cruz said.

She said she continues to see women crossing rivers using a rope, because their bridge was washed away, to get medication for their children.

“We need the help and it’s not help, we have paid for it,” Cruz said, noting that Puerto Ricans have fought in every U.S. military campaign.

Puerto Ricans are dying. "There is a need in Puerto Rico, and we ask the president to, for once, do the right thing and not take the aid away from Puerto Rico," said Cruz who invited by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is Puerto Rican, to attend President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address on January 30, 2018.

Puerto Rico municipalities have not gotten back as much as they invested in FEMA, she said. San Juan has given FEMA $20 million to care for people in the capital city and received $4.9 million back, she said. This is another issue not widely reported as it often seems Puerto Ricans are blamed as not being capable of contributing when, in reality, they have contributed their financial resources as well as their lives in serving these United States.

Image: Puerto Rico Hurricane Recovery
A mountain of rubble remains in front of the house of the Oliveras Gonzalez family in Morovis on Dec. 21, 2017. Carlos Giusti / AP

FEMA said it has given more than $1.6 billion in food and more than $361 million in water to hurricane survivors.

"During all the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, there's been a feature of the Trump administration and that is that they take away the aid before it's done," Cruz said to reporters following her speech, citing the example of the withdrawal of the Army Reserve even though bridges still need building.

Asked how long FEMA should say, Cruz said as long as it's necessary, because 35 percent of people still do not have power. While grocery stores may be open, "if you don't have power, you don't have capacity to keep food in your house."

FEMA stayed in New Orleans  for 10 years. How does FEMA justify leaving Puerto Rico after 4 months? If 1/3 of Florida was without power, would that be normal? How utterly stupid.