SUBSTANCE CREDIT TO GRAHAM LANKTREE, 1/31/18, NEWSWEEK, with editorial comments and input by Riley Allen.
President Donald Trump told the island of Puerto Rico that America stands by them in his State of the Union address. But, just how much as FEMA prepared to stop giving out food and water in Puerto Rico Wednesday, January 31st?
35 percent of the people in Puerto Rico, all American citizens, are still without power four months after Hurricane Maria left the island in ruins. We have friends there; they are proud and resilient, but they need help - real help, not political mumbo jumbo.
“A third of Puerto Rico still lacks electricity. Many do not have running water. But FEMA will ‘officially shut off’ tomorrow,” wrote activist Erin Schrode on Facebook Tuesday. Schrode is COO of World Central Kitchen, who is leading the #ChefsForPuertoRico project with chef José Andrés to distribute millions of meals on the island. But for these types of incredible, selfless volunteers, there is no telling how much worse it would be.
In Trump’s State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress, he addressed “everyone still recovering” from a series of hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last year. “We are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” the president said. This alleged show of solidarity, however, stands in contrast to “the startling, unimaginable reality here for millions of Americans over 4 months after Maria,” wrote Schrode.
“I am here on the island. Our team traverses its 78 municipalities daily. The post-hurricane emergency is still all too real for large segments of the population, where the majority of multiple regions remain without power and below the poverty line.”
Food and water shipments “officially shut off” Wednesday, January 31st, according to FEMA, because these supplies are allegedly now commercially available, suggesting the immediate emergency after the storm has lifted. Some 65 million liters of water and 58 million meals have been given out on the island at a cost of $2 billion, FEMA claims.
“The reality is that we just need to look around. Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal,” FEMA's director in Puerto Rico, Alejandro De La Campa, told NPR early this week. Things are NOT back to normal.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz—who clashed publicly with Trump over the government’s response to the disaster last year—disagrees. Speaking directly after Trump’s State of the Union address, which she attended as a guest of New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Cruz said “there is need still” on the island. In a speech at the Latino Victory Summit Tuesday, Cruz condemned the plan to end FEMA support. “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,” she said.
Congress is expected to soon sign off on $80 billion more in disaster relief to $50 billion in aid that it approved last year.
In a letter sent to FEMA’s chief, Brock Long, 30 members of Congress warned that ending food and water supplies to Puerto Rico would hurt the island’s people.
Nonprofit organizations like World Central Kitchen “can only do so much,” wrote Schrode Tuesday. “The federal government MUST step in and show up in major ways, not disappear or abandon ship at a pivotal moment.” THIS IS A HUMANITARIAN EMBARRASSMENT for the alleged most humanitarian country in the world. These are our American neighbors.