Federal government needs to focus on Puerto Rico


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Yuliet Gonzalez, Reporter

Even before rain and hurricane-force winds lashed Puerto Rico, spawning devastating floods, the island was ripe for destruction. Hurricane Fiona delivered it, and the citizens of Puerto Rico are once again left to clean up a mess left by a hurricane. Fiona hit five years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island; the fact that no lessons were learned and no stronger protections were made after Maria is both frustrating and devastating.

Hurricane Maria triggered a blackout that lasted nearly 11 months for many of its more than three million people. Bridges were ripped apart and roads were destroyed. Given the high probability that climate change would make this type of storm more common, Maria should have served as an urgent warning to fix things in the US territory. Instead, it foreshowed partisan infighting in Washington, and Puerto Ricans were subjected to the sight of then-president Donald Trump tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd in Guaynabo, a suburb of San Juan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was somewhat effective in the beginning but then bogged down completely. Trump labeled Puerto Rico as corrupt, federal officials attached onerous conditions to releasing the extensive aid that Congress had approved, and ultimately, nothing was truly fixed.

After Fiona had finished with Puerto Rico, the island’s power grid was crippled; 1.5 million had lost electricity; many were without water; and some rural communities were cut off. President Joe Biden approved Puerto Rico’s request for a major disaster declaration, which will help speed the delivery of assistance, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has also deployed hundreds of employees to supplement the 700 staff already living and working there, which will help for now, but what about next time? Because there will be a next time, no doubt.

The administration needs to kick-start the recovery effort that’s languished after Maria. FEMA allocated tens of billions of dollars to Puerto Rico to help it rebuild from Maria, but only a fraction of that money has been spent. Washington needs to remove the bureaucratic hurdles and get more involved in the island’s long-term recovery effort. And it needs to do it before the next hurricane hits.