Menendez, NJ Puerto Rican Leaders Demand Immediate Federal Response to Recent Earthquakes

Menendez, NJ Puerto Rican Leaders Demand Immediate Federal Response to Recent Earthquakes

   

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today joined leaders of New Jersey’s large Puerto Rican community to demand the Trump Administration take immediate action to assist the thousands of American citizens affected by the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the island on Jan. 7, the hundreds of powerful aftershocks that continue to rattle the island, and the delayed recovery from Hurricane Maria. New Jersey is home to the third-largest Puerto Rican population on the U.S. mainland. 

While President Trump declared an emergency following the Jan. 7 earthquake and the ensuing aftershocks that destroyed homes, schools and critical infrastructure in the southern part of the island, it wasn’t until after growing pressure from elected officials, leaders and advocates, that a Major Disaster Declaration was signed to unlock all of FEMA’s programming and assistance to the communities most in need. Sen. Menendez and a group of colleagues had urged the President to take this action sooner.

Adding insult to injury, the Trump Administration continues to inexplicably block $18.5 billion in federal disaster aid appropriated by Congress in February 2018 to help Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. The failure to provide the necessary assistance has delayed Puerto Rico’s recovery and weakened the island’s ability to withstand the earthquakes, worsening their impact on individuals and property.

“Once again we see how President Trump’s indifference and disdain towards U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico is exacerbating a crisis originated by a natural disaster,” said Sen. Menendez. “By refusing for almost two years to disburse more than $18 billion appropriated by Congress in 2018, the Administration is sending a clear message of disregard for thousands of Americans affected by the earthquakes who desperately need assistance. Today, we come together again to demand the Trump Administration show a shred of decency, fairness and compassion to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.” 

 

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Sen. Menendez was joined by several leaders in New Jersey’s Puerto Rican community, including: State Senators Teresa Ruiz and Nellie Pou; Newark Councilmen Luis Quintana, Carlos Gonzalez and Anibal Ramos; Paterson Councilman Luis Velez; Newark Schools Superintendent Roger Leon; Newark Housing Authority Exec. Dir. Victor Cirillo; Lissette Morales and Rev. Johnny Escobar Carrasquillo from FOCUS; Julio Garcia from Puertorriquenos Asociados for Community Organization; Ralph Padilla from the Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern N.J.; Josephine Garcia from Newark Puerto Rican Day Parade; George Torres President of the Hispanic Law Enforcement of Newark; Leo Suarez, President of the Roberto Clemente Little of Newark; Luis Maisonave, President of the Hispanic Fire fighters; and Mayttee Cordero fromTainas Unidas.

"The people of Puerto Rico deserve the resources necessary to rebuild toward a brighter future, after suffering through hurricanes and earthquakes,” said Sen. Ruiz.  “The Trump Administration has subjected United States citizens to dangerous living conditions by unlawfully withholding $18 billion in disaster funding already approved by Congress.  It is time to take action and release the funds to pave a pathway for a stronger future.”

“Puerto Rico needs our help. They need our help—as a nation and as individuals—to pick up the shattered pieces, rebuild the island and heal from the wounds of this relentless series of compounding disasters,” said Sen. Pou, Chair of the New Jersey Legislative Latino Caucus. “That is why, my colleagues in the legislature and I are doing everything we can to contribute to Puerto Rico’s recovery and we urge the White House to do the same. This is a major disaster and the sooner it is declared, the faster the funds can be released and the long journey to recovery can begin.”

“I want to thank Senator Menendez for always being our champion,” said Councilman Quintana.  “I’m very concerned.  The people of Puerto Rico are hurting, they need our help, and the federal government must do more to provide the resources the island needs to recover.”

Critical funding withheld by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has blocked the restoration and rebuilding of the island’s infrastructure, and individual’s homes affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017. With timely repairs, future tragedies like the ones we have witnessed in recent weeks could have been avoided.

After months of pressure, the Administration is reportedly preparing to publish a federal register notice for $8.3 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) appropriated after Maria for mitigation projects approved in 2018.

Yesterday, Sen. Menendez led a group of colleagues in requesting Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to immediately hold hearings on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inaction in disbursing billions of dollars in congressionally appropriated funding for Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Since last year, Sen. Menendez has requested the immediate publication of a Federal Register Notice for $8.3 billion in CDBG-DR funding for mitigation projects in Puerto Rico, and the $1.9 billion to restore the islands power grid, as well as questioning the policy justifications for the appointment of a Federal Financial Monitor to oversee all HUD funding provided only to Puerto Rico. 

The press conference was held at FOCUS Hispanic Center for Community Development, Inc. in Newark.  FOCUS provides adult education, employment training, senior citizen programs, health and nutrition programs as well as assistance to families requiring temporary support such as food, utility and housing assistance.  FOCUS has been at the forefront of providing services to displaced families from Puerto Rico who have relocated to the Newark area.