Donald Trump

What Are Your Elected Leaders Doing to Help Puerto Rico?

More than 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico do not have access to water, power, gasoline or communication with the outside world. Some have not been able to contact loved ones on the mainland.

The wait has been agonizing for Hiram Carmona, a Philadelphia resident hoping to relocate his 85-year-old mother from Puerto Rico to Pennsylvania in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

“Nobody is fine in Puerto Rico right now. Nobody,” he said.

His mother walks with a cane, and her failing health prevented the elderly woman from joining hundreds of hurricane victims in the sweltering San Juan Airport as they waited for the next flight off the island.

More than 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico do not have access to water, power, gasoline or communication with the outside world. Some have not been able to contact loved ones on the mainland.

As the humanitarian crisis spirals into further chaos, some local lawmakers are using the start of the legislative season to push the federal government into action.

Earlier this week, both Pennsylvania representatives Brendan Boyle, D-13, and Dwight Evans, D-2, used their time on the House floor to call for more relief aid.

“The federal government must provide its full, robust support to Puerto Rico immediately—just as we did for Texas and Florida,” Boyle, who represents portions of Philadelphia, Norristown and Lansdale, said. “The fact that this has not yet occurred ... is nothing short of appalling.”

Boyle, along with Evans and other members of Congress, sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis asking them to “further mobilize the Department of Defense” and immediately deploy additional assets to both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The first step would be appointing a senior official to work directly with FEMA to a manage a joint recovery effort on the ground. This would include mobilizing pilots to transport engineers and other workers to help clear roads and enable access to the otherwise remote islands.

Also, members of congress called for an increase in meals, water and survival kits to be transported to the caribbean.

“This was done in response to Hurricane Katrina, and we feel the same approach is warranted now,” the letter read.

[NATL] In Photos: Total Devastation in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

Since Hurricane Maria struck last week, the Department of Homeland Security has provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water, 300 infant and toddler kits and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits to residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, DHS said. Perhaps the biggest challenge is restoring the electrical grid, which DHS Secretary Elaine Duke said is “virtually gone” in Puerto Rico.

Despite the coordinated response, Congressional leaders insisted the islands need more help.

“The president was talking about the NFL as of Friday and he’s now talking about going to Puerto Rico Tuesday,” Evans said.

“We must keep the pressure on until we address the immediate issues of water and gas, the acceleration of SNAP benefits. We need to hold the president accountable as the chief executive of implementation.”

For Carmona, simply seeing his mother again would be a relief. He intends to fly out on the first commercial flight to Puerto Rico to pick her up and bring her back to Philadelphia.

“I’m going to see her with a ticket in my hand. If we can get out,” he said.

Some flights have already landed in Philadelphia and New Jersey from the hurricane-ravaged island. Philly has yet to receive requests to resettle victims, but Mayor Jim Kenney said he would welcome them with open arms.

“If there are folks that need additional stuff, we’ll address it … by trying to find them a place to live, which we did with [Hurricane] Katrina,” he said.

Puerto Ricans comprise roughly 8 percent of Philadelphia’s total population, according to the 2010 Census. But that number could jump if the city receives requests from the federal government.

Philadelphia “is actively monitoring developments, and prepared to provide assistance via a federal declaration in coordination with Governor Wolf and FEMA,” a spokesperson for Kenney said.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, a North Philadelphia native, has been working alongside Kenney, Evans and Boyle and will add her voice to theirs during a joint news conference Thursday evening. They will be asking Trump to immediately release more funds to FEMA, deploy the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Puerto Rico and waive the Jones Act, which requires only U.S.-made and owned shipping vessels be used.

But for people like Carmona, waiting for Congress to act feels like torture.

"I want her now," he said of his sick mother. "I want her now."

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