Durbin: We Must Do More For Puerto Rico During Humanitarian Crisis

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with leaders in the Puerto Rican community to hear about local efforts to provide aid and call on President Trump to speed federal assistance to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Earlier this week, Durbin joined a group of Senators in a letter to President Trump calling on his administration to issue a full Disaster Declaration for the entire island of Puerto Rico and take a series of steps to coordinate the federal response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria recently knocked out the entire island’s electric grid leaving at least 3.4 million Americans with no power, decimated countless structures, and claimed the lives of at least 16 individuals.  Hospitals have no running water or basic supplies, and 95% of cellphone structures are still inactive,” Durbin said. “This is a humanitarian crisis occurring on U.S. soil and it is our duty to provide aid and support to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.”

In the letter to President Trump, Durbin and colleagues expressed deep about the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and called for eight specific actions to be undertaken by the Trump administration:

  1. Calls on President Trump to issue a full Disaster Declaration for the entire island of Puerto Rico, which has yet to happen. 
  2. Calls on President Trump to appoint a Special Assistant for Rebuilding, to coordinate the multi-faceted federal efforts for Puerto Rico across all departments and agencies.
  3. Calls on President Trump to request more funding to assist Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program. 
  4. Calls on President Trump to utilize all federal resources to restore power, including sending Department of Energy experts; 500 utility employees; 100 fuel trucks; and 200 generators. 
  5. Calls on President Trump to send more Department of Defense assets: construction battalions to repair power and transportation infrastructure, command and control aircraft for air traffic control; helicopters for search and rescue; and 1,500 service members to provide disaster and humanitarian assistance.
  6. Calls on President Trump to work with Congress to waive the local cost share requirement for FEMA public assistance disaster funding for all categories of FEMA public assistance.
  7. Calls on President Trump to send assets and expertise from across the federal government to restore communications, including from Department of Commerce, FCC, Coast Guard, and DOD.
  8. Calls on President Trump to ensure that FEMA, Coast Guard, and DOD work together effectively to restore all ports to working condition.

Earlier this week, Durbin also wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, along with nine of their colleagues, requesting immediate action on disaster relief legislation for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The Illinois Air National Guard has deployed a team to provide telecommunication assistance, food, water, tents, and cots to Puerto Rico.  Illinois has the seventh largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, with more than 200,000 residents of Puerto Rican heritage.