Washington – Yesterday, one hundred and thirty-two Democrats from the US Senate and House of Representatives demanded that President Donald Trump apologizes to Puerto Rico for minimizing the magnitude of the devastation that Hurricane Maria left on the island a year ago.
In a letter, federal lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (New York), also requested him to express his commitment to the efforts to rebuild the island.
The 15 senators and 117 Congress members that sign the letter said that when President Trump wrote in Twitter he “sought to distort the truth and, in doing so, gravely insulted the mourning families of the thousands of American citizens who died from Maria and the storm's aftermath”.
For the lawmakers, Trump attempted “to shift blame,” regarding the federal government´s responsibility in the slow and inefficient response to the Puerto Rican emergency, one year after the worst catastrophe in the island´s modern history.
A study by George Washington University, commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico, estimated at 2,975 the deaths caused by the hurricane and the devastation it left on the island, which limited electric power, medical and transportation services, as well as access to basic products.
However, President Trump indicated that his performance in Puerto Rico “is an incredible unsung success”. In addition, he incorrectly alleged that the 2.975 estimate is an invention of the Democrats to blame him for failing in the response.
"The lost lives of U.S. citizens are no political stunt, and this is not a partisan matter. In fact, one could easily surmise that your comment is a blatant effort to politicize this national tragedy to distract, divide and deflect blame from how the federal government responded to the hurricane,” said the lawmakers in their letter.
They also pointed out to President Trump that he should dedicate himself to improve the federal government´s efforts in the recovery of Puerto Rico and to take care of the damages caused by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Bernie Sanders (independent of Vermont), Robert Menéndez (New Jersey), Edward Markey (Massachusetts), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Dianne Feinstein (California) , Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) are among those who signed the letter.
Puerto Ricans Jose Serrano (New York), Luis Gutiérrez (Illinois) and Darren Soto (Florida) are also part of those signing the letter.
After a disaster, the President needs to lead the country in the recovery effort, not attempt to shift blame or openly question the tragic loss of life. As President of the United States, you have a solemn obligation to lead and serve all American citizens, regardless of their political party or whether they reside in the mainland United States or in the territories. In impugning the Island's suffering after Maria, you have abdicated that responsibility,” they noted.
On the other hand, this week, Congresswoman Velazquez requested to the US Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, to start a new round of funding for the program - "Hardest Hit Fund" (HHF) - which aims to help avoid foreclosures.
After the 2017 hurricanes, Velazquez said the Department of the Treasury should revive that program and allow Puerto Rican residents to use it.
Through the HHF program, the Treasury provides funds to state agencies to design local solutions to avoid foreclosures.
Velazquez said the US Treasury should pay special attention to the island, since Hurricane Maria has aggravated the housing crisis in Puerto Rico.
According to the legislator, about 272,000 homes were damaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
"The risk of foreclosures is high, and with it, the possibility that thousands of homeowners will be forced to rely on the rental housing market, which will absorb a large and unacceptable parte of their income," added Velazquez.
She recalled that, in the midst of the mortgage crisis, a decade ago, the Treasury granted $ 1,5 billion to the five states that experienced the most abrupt fall in prices. Then, another two rounds of funding granted $2.6 billion to states with high levels of unemployment.
According to Velazquez, the Puerto Rican economic and fiscal crisis meets both criteria.
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