Menendez, Booker, Democrats to Trump: Use Cold War-Era Defense Production Act to Hasten Puerto Rico Response

Menendez, Booker, Democrats to Trump: Use Cold War-Era Defense Production Act to Hasten Puerto Rico Response

Crisis in Puerto Rico is a full-blown national security issue and “demands the use of extraordinary measures.”

 
WASHINGTON, DC -  U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the highest-ranking Latino member in the U.S. Congress, and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) called on President Trump to use the authority given to him under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to more quickly respond to the disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The DPA was passed in 1950 to give the federal government the ability to quickly mobilize vast private sector resources through the Defense Department to respond to crises.

Specifically, they requested the Federal Government use the Maritime Administration to deliver supplies in high demand; use the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to airlift more resources to the island and evacuate citizens with emergency medical needs; and use “Priorities and Allocation authority” under the DPA to access private sector resources to alleviate the crisis and restore critical infrastructure.

“As fuel and water supplies dwindle precariously low, damaged infrastructure from roads and bridges to ports and electrical lines exacerbate the already formidable challenges, and threaten to leave the island without power for months to come,” the senators wrote.  “This is a prediction that would never be acceptable on the mainland and it should not be acceptable for the American citizens living on Puerto Rico.”

“The scale of this natural disaster creates serious national security implications and as such, demands the use of extraordinary measures,” the senators continued. “The federal government has the transportation and logistics infrastructure to help alleviate the immediate and overwhelming crisis currently facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  While the full scope of the devastation is not yet known, one thing is for certain – with quick and decisive action granted through the authorities in the DPA, the potential devastation on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands may be mitigated.”

As thousands of displaced people find themselves homeless, Sens. Menendez and Booker also led a request for an appropriations bill that would help these American citizens rebuild and provide them the resources needed to restore the islands back to normality.

Senator Menendez is assessing the federal government’s disaster response on the Island today.

Below is a full copy of the letter, which can also be found here.

 

September 29, 2017

 

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to urge you to immediately utilize the authorities granted to you under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to provide relief to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the devastation brought by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  As you are aware, the DPA allows the President to prioritize materials and services to promote emergency repairs, supply lines, and restoration of vital utilities and facilities destroyed or damaged by a natural disaster.  Both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were already reeling from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma when they suffered a direct and devastating hit from Hurricane Maria.  The sheer scope and magnitude of this natural disaster creates serious national security implications and as such, demands the use of extraordinary measures.  Without immediate and decisive action, the 3.5 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will continue to be subjected to needless pain and suffering.  While the full scope of the devastation is not yet known, one thing is for certain – with quick and decisive action granted through the authorities in the DPA, the potential devastation on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands may be mitigated.

The federal government has the transportation and logistics infrastructure to help alleviate the immediate and overwhelming crisis currently facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Existing as islands hundreds of miles away from the U.S. mainland, significant airlift and sealift resources are particularly in high demand.  Through the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) program operated by the Maritime Administration’s authorities under the DPA, the federal government could quickly provide much needed supplies to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  In addition, the Department of Transportation operates the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program, which could be used to augment the airlift capacity of relief supplies onto the islands and the evacuation of civilians with emergency medical conditions off of the island.  Finally, the DPA allows the President to exercise the “Priorities and Allocations” authority, enabling the government to access any of the critical supplies and resources it needs from the private sector to save lives during this extraordinary time of crisis.  The federal government maintains these relationships and agreements for the express purpose of alleviating crises and restoring critical infrastructure.  Based on the details emerging from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the unfolding situation certainly qualifies as a national disaster. 

Recent media reports indicate that the entire island of Puerto Rico is without power.  As fuel and water supplies dwindle precariously low, damaged infrastructure from roads and bridges to ports and electrical lines exacerbate the already formidable challenges, and threaten to leave the island without power for months to come.  This is a prediction that would never be acceptable on the mainland and it should not be acceptable for the American citizens living on Puerto Rico.  The possibility of months without power could well be fatal for those with medical conditions that require power, those with medications that must be refrigerated, or the elderly and infirmed who are exposed to tropical temperatures.  Restoring power to all of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands should be a priority of the federal government, and all available resources should be employed to fix the power infrastructure and bring fuel to these islands.

The situation on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is dire and demands a dramatic and immediate response to alleviate untold suffering.  The 3.5 million people living on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are citizens of the United States and deserve to be treated as such.  They serve in our military and answered the call every time their country needed them – and now, it is our obligation to be there for them.  Failure to be there in their time of need is both unacceptable and un-American. 

Sincerely,

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