WASHINGTON – A large group of Democratic lawmakers denounced on Thursday the slowness and inefficiency of the Donald Trump administration in reacting to the devastation in Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane Maria, and they called for immediate legislative action to deal with the situation.
New York Rep. Nydia Velasquez, one of the legislators leading the effort to help the island recover, insisted Thursday that the response of the administration has been “inexcusably slow” and inefficient, and she urged Congress to move more quickly.
“This has to happen soon, not weeks from now, not in late October,” she told reporters. “Unfortunately, this administration’s response has been inexcusably slow and inadequate.”
She said at a press conference with her Democratic colleagues that now Congress needs to focus on the issue and called upon House Speaker Paul Ryan to bring legislation to help alleviate the suffering in Puerto Rico to a vote, noting that supplementary funding is required, as was provided for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Velasquez – who is Puerto Rican – emphasized the serious situation being faced by others in the US commonwealth, where almost the entire electrical grid was destroyed by the storm and people have been unable to receive medicines, potable water and food in the wake of the storm due to logistical difficulties.
Another congressman of Puerto Rican heritage, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, called on Trump to mobilize the needed resources and agencies to deal with the crisis.
He said that the island’s situation is worse than the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“This is Katrina 2017, make no mistake about it,” Gutierrez remarked.
Trump on Thursday finally authorized foreign-flagged vessels to carry supplies to Puerto Rico, thus temporarily suspending the Jones Act, which stipulates that only US ships with US crews may transport products between American ports.
Sen. Marco Rubio, at a later press conference, said that the distribution chain in Puerto Rico is “broken,” noting the harsh conditions being experiences by residents of the island and agreeing with Democratic lawmakers that the Defense Department has the best ability to distribute the necessary aid.
In addition to the devastation wrought by Maria, Puerto Rico is going through a serious economic crisis with an internal debt of more than $70 billion, the result of which is that its ability to repair the storm damage on its own is very limited.