House Leader Steny Hoyer Leads Trip to Puerto Rico to Survey Disaster Needs

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has led a group of lawmakers to Puerto Rico for the first time since a series of devastating earthquakes struck the island in late December and early January.

The two-day trip comes at a time when Democrats are at odds with President Donald Trump about the release of full aid to Puerto Rico for disaster relief.

Joining Hoyer are Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) had to withdraw from the trip.

Their visit will include updates from Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and other top leaders as well as surveying the damage caused by the earthquakes.

“We were supposed to meet with the Governor. The Governor had a family emergency, a health emergency. Ironically, one of our Members, a Member from Louisiana, had a similar emergency, so he could not be here. A Republican Member of the Congress,” said Hoyer in a Feb. 17 statement.

Vázquez Garced has faced calls by the public to resign over her handling of disaster relief and firing of Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

The Congress members are also scheduled to travel to the southern part of the island, where thousands of people have been made homeless by the earthquakes that toppled structures in the area.

“We will be going to the south tomorrow, and we’re going to visit schools in Guánica and we’re going to talk to citizens who are there and we will be talking to displaced individuals,” Hoyer said.

The last earthquake, a 6.4 magnitude tremor, struck the U.S. island territory in January and rendered thousands of people homeless and without power. That quake followed hundreds of quakes that had struck Puerto Rico since late December.

“We are here because of our great concern, our great concern… Congress of the United States has appropriated over $50 billion to respond to the crisis in infrastructure, human needs, housing, nutrition, education, and transportation—all of the issues, including water, sewer, and the electric grid.”

After months of protests from Democrats, the White House announced in January that it would release $8 billion in long-term rebuilding aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Trump administration has repeatedly voiced concerns of alleged corruption and mismanagement as the reason for not handing over billions of dollars in disaster funds to the island.

A senior Housing and Urban Development official said in a statement to NPR that they have put in place a financial monitoring team so could move forward with funding disaster recovery.

At the start of January, Trump signed an emergency declaration to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Trump “ordered federal assistance to supplement Commonwealth and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from earthquakes beginning” on Dec. 28, the White House stated.

Hoyer said that though their visit is fueled by frustration and anger that rebuilding is not happening fast enough, they are there to find solutions and not to blame anyone for the situation.

“This is not about trying to blame people, it is about making sure that the people of Puerto Rico are put back in a position where they are no longer challenged by being homeless, by having nutrition shortage, by being unemployed.”

Hoyer said that the goal of the trip is to make sure that Puerto Ricans get the help they need and to show solidarity.

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Author: Masooma Haq